As a heat wave continues to grip much of Japan and send thousands to hospitals with heat-related illnesses, medical workers worry that the similarity of symptoms to COVID-19 may put extra pressure on a health care system already creaking under the strain of the coronavirus pandemic.

The number of people showing signs of heatstroke or heat exhaustion has sharply increased recently. Temperatures soared to 41.1 in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, on Monday, tying the national record marked in Kumagaya, Saitama Prefecture, in 2018.

"There are times when we can't immediately tell apart (those suffering from heat-related illness and COVID-19) when a (patient) is feeling unwell with a high fever because it's a symptom they have in common," said Yasufumi Miyake, head of the advanced emergency medical service center at Teikyo University Hospital in Tokyo.