• STAFF REPORT, KYODO

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Japan’s daily coronavirus infections totaled 6,004 cases, topping 6,000 for the first time since the start of the outbreak last year, a Kyodo News tally based on official data showed Wednesday, just a day ahead of an expected state of emergency declaration for the Tokyo area.

The latest results, which far exceeded the previous record of 4,916 on Tuesday, came a day before Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is set to declare another state of emergency in Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures.

As the rapid spread of infections shows no signs of abating across the country, Tokyo and a number of prefectures, including Osaka, reported record cases Wednesday.

The capital’s daily infections totaled 1,591, jumping more than 250 from the previous high of 1,337 set on Dec. 31, with a record-high 113 COVID-19 patients in serious condition, raising concerns about the strain on the medical system there.

Tokyo and neighboring Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa prefectures, all of which are to be covered by the planned state of emergency, accounted for nearly half of the nationwide total, with Saitama and Chiba confirming a record 394 and 311 cases, respectively.

As Aichi also confirmed a record 364 cases, Gov. Hideaki Omura told a news conference he may ask the state to put the central prefecture under the emergency declaration, “if this trend continues for a few days.”

Osaka saw 560 infections, surpassing the previous record of 490 logged in November, and Fukuoka confirmed a record 316 daily cases.

Government sources said the envisioned state of emergency will likely be in place until Feb. 7, with residents being encouraged to stay home and restaurants and other establishments serving food asked to close by 8 p.m.

Some health experts have warned it will take longer for the third wave of infections to come under control, stressing the need of taking stricter steps.

The health ministry held a meeting of infectious disease experts on Wednesday, the second in as many days. They have called for stricter and longer countermeasures, while Suga has sought a more limited response to avoid damaging the economy.

“Even if we take strong measures immediately, it will be difficult to bring the Tokyo metropolitan area down to stage 3 by the end of January,” Takaji Wakita, chief of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, told reporters after the meeting.

Toshio Nakagawa, president of the Japan Medical Association, said at a separate news conference the government should look into the possibility of expanding coverage of the planned declaration to nationwide, depending on the level of further spread of the virus.

Nakagawa also called for all lawmakers to “completely” refrain from dining out at night regardless of the number of attendees.

Suga drew criticism for attending a group dinner with more than four people last month even though he himself had called for the public to avoid such events.

Suga has seen support ratings plummet amid public dissatisfaction with his COVID-19 response and hopes implementing restrictions “in a limited and focused manner” under the state of emergency will help stem the outbreak while avoiding massive damage to the economy.

Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister in charge of the government’s COVID-19 response, is set to report to the Diet, Japan’s parliament, on Thursday.

The prime minister met with Nishimura, health minister Norihisa Tamura and Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato at his office Wednesday and told them to speed up preparations for the state of emergency.

The government previously declared an emergency in Tokyo and six other prefectures in early April last year to fight the first wave of infections, later expanding it nationwide before lifting it in late May.

Several other prefectures also matched or saw new record daily highs, according to NHK. These included:

  • 248 in Hyogo Prefecture
  • 132 in Tochigi Prefecture
  • 102 in Gifu Prefecture
  • 87 in Shizuoka Prefecture
  • 80 in Miyazaki Prefecture
  • 69 in Kumamoto Prefecture
  • 50 in Shiga Prefecture
  • 33 in Mie Prefecture
  • 32 in Toyama Prefecture
  • 26 in Oita Prefecture
  • 18 in Wakayama Prefecture
  • 15 in Tottori Prefecture

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