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Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike raised the capital’s health care alert system to its highest level on Thursday, sounding the alarm just hours before the city reported a record-breaking 822 new cases of the novel coronavirus.

The nationwide tally of new cases also hit a record, with media reports putting the figure at 3,211 as of late Thursday evening.

This is the first time Tokyo has reached the fourth level of its alert system, indicating that officials and experts on the metropolitan government’s task force believe hospitals are being overwhelmed and could soon struggle to provide treatment to patients other than those infected with COVID-19.

“Tokyo’s health care system is approaching capacity,” Koike said Thursday. “Hospitals are clogged, and could soon lose the ability to perform basic functions at a critical time of the year.”

The capital raised a separate alert system in November meant to gauge the severity of the outbreak to its fourth and highest level — signifying that officials believe infections are spreading — following a nationwide spike in new infections that began in late October.

Tokyo officials said that, as of Wednesday, 1,960 — or 65% — of 3,000 beds available for coronavirus patients were occupied. Additionally, 69 of the 200 beds for coronavirus patients experiencing severe symptoms were in use.

Tokyo has reported more than 49,000 total infections and 557 deaths from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. In terms of daily new cases, the capital has reset its record multiple times in the past week having reported 678 on Wednesday and 621 on Saturday.

The rolling average of daily cases measured over the span of a week reached 513 on Thursday, exceeding 500 for the first time. In the week leading up to Nov. 18 that figure was 334.

Deaths are increasing as well. On Wednesday, the capital reported 10 fatalities due to COVID-19, the highest since the city recorded 11 in mid-May during a nationwide state of emergency.

Haruo Ozaki, president of the Tokyo Medical Association, said last month that more than 500 new cases a day would put a strong strain on medical institutions in Tokyo.

“But if it rises to 1,000 a day,” he said. “Tokyo’s medical system would be overwhelmed.”

Tokyo's Shinagawa Station. On Thursday, the capital said the strain on its medical system from the pandemic was severe, raising its alert level to the highest of four stages as hospital beds filled up with rising infections. | AFP-JIJI
Tokyo’s Shinagawa Station. On Thursday, the capital said the strain on its medical system from the pandemic was severe, raising its alert level to the highest of four stages as hospital beds filled up with rising infections. | AFP-JIJI

The virus is spreading more rapidly among both older people and the young as well as those living in the same household, experts said during a meeting at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building on Thursday.

Experts said that untraceable, asymptomatic cases are also on the rise.

On Thursday, the city began transferring mild and asymptomatic COVID-19 patients to a hotel in Shibuya Ward, the 10th nonmedical facility to be enlisted by the metropolitan government to ease the pressure on hospitals.

Koike said Tokyo will consider revising the policy regarding such facilities so that older patients and those with pre-existing conditions can also be admitted.

“The virus is spreading at an increasing pace,” said Norio Ohmagari, director of the Disease Control and Prevention Center, during a meeting at the metropolitan government. “Stronger measures are necessary to prevent more people from becoming infected, and to prevent those infected from developing severe symptoms.”

Infections that occur among people sharing a home have spurred rising case counts nationwide, accounting for more than 42% of new cases in Tokyo over the past two weeks.

As the third wave of infections continues to gain momentum, officials are being urged to strengthen virus countermeasures, bolster support for hospitals and increase the number of available beds for coronavirus patients.

New cases continue to rise as the country approaches the end of the year.

On Wednesday, Koike and her counterparts from Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa prefectures submitted to tourism minister Kazuyoshi Akaba and several metropolitan-area train operators a request to halt all-night trains on New Year’s Eve.

“Motto Tokyo,” a localized travel subsidy campaign for the capital’s residents, as well as the central government’s Go To Eat campaign — which was meant to promote public dining — were suspended beginning Friday through Dec. 27. Meanwhile, inbound trips to Tokyo using the Go To Travel campaign have been suspended until Jan. 11. Tokyoites are also discouraged from using the campaign for outbound travel through Dec. 27, with a nationwide suspension of the program beginning the following day and continuing until Jan. 11.

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