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Health minister Norihisa Tamura called Tuesday for local authorities to help strengthen regional medical systems by planning for a “worst case scenario” as the number of severely ill patients in the country surges.

Speaking at a news conference, Tamura said the central and local governments must draw up a plan to prevent the collapse of the medical system as the country grapples with a resurgence of the deadly virus.

“There are regional differences, but I have a strong sense of urgency” about a looming crisis, Tamura said, adding that the central government has been calling on municipalities to secure hospital beds for COVID-19 patients.

The government is also working on a plan to send medical workers to regions that are struggling due to staff shortages, he added.

The number of people with serious symptoms in Japan hit a record for the eighth straight day on Monday with 472 cases amid mounting fears that medical facilities may not be able to offer the same level of service to patients as before the resurgence.

Tokyo, the hardest-hit area among 47 prefectures, confirmed 372 new cases of the virus on Tuesday.

On Nov. 19, the metropolitan government raised its virus alert to the highest of four levels, given the recent spike in new infections.

The Tokyo government on Saturday started requesting that restaurants and other establishments serving alcohol shorten their business hours by closing at 10 p.m. as part of efforts to prevent the further spread of the virus.

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