Each day that Tokyo has surpassed its own record for new cases of COVID-19, more often than not the country has as well.

On Wednesday, the capital reported an unprecedented 1,591 cases, and as of the evening new cases nationwide had passed 6,000 for the first time.

However, even though infections within residences continue to account for the largest portion of traceable new cases in Tokyo — and have done since the start of the third wave in late October — the state of emergency Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is expected to declare for the greater Tokyo metropolitan area on Thursday largely targets food establishments.

On Tuesday, Japan reported 4,913 cases, then a record, of which 1,278 occurred in Tokyo.

Among the 1,278 cases reported in the capital, the origin of infection in 881 cases — nearly 70% — was untraceable or in the process of being traced. Of the remaining 397 that have successfully been traced, 244 occurred within households while 49 were linked to food establishments or individuals who had recently dined publicly or with large groups of friends, family or coworkers.

On Monday, Tokyo officials announced that 45 students and teachers at a high school had become infected — the first cluster to emerge in a school operated by the city.

People enjoy drinking and dining at an izakaya-style pub amid the COVID-19 outbreak in Tokyo on Tuesday. | REUTERS
People enjoy drinking and dining at an izakaya-style pub amid the COVID-19 outbreak in Tokyo on Tuesday. | REUTERS

The capital’s most recent hospital cluster was identified in late December when a hospital reported that 32 doctors, nurses and patients had become infected with COVID-19.

As the virus continues to spread in homes, schools and medical facilities in major cities across the country, some experts are concerned that a monthlong state of emergency restricting restaurants and bars in the capital region will lack the scope and duration necessary to effectively contain outbreaks nationwide.

For new infections in Tokyo to return to under 100 cases a day, the state of emergency would need to last two months and include the strict restrictions imposed during Japan’s first emergency declaration made last April, according to Hiroshi Nishiura, a theoretical epidemiologist at Kyoto University’s Department of Health and Environmental Sciences.

“It’s crucial that human contact be reduced not just in food establishments but all indoor places,” Nishiura was quoted as saying in media reports.

On Wednesday, Nishiura released the findings of a simulation that predicted the trajectory of new cases in Tokyo using the effective reproduction value of the virus — often referred to as the “R value” — which measures the transmission rate over a given period of time.

If the R value is around one, it means an infected individual will transmit the virus on average to one other person. If the number dips below one, the outbreak will gradually subside. If it’s above one, the outbreak will continue to grow.

Tokyo will see 7,000 cases a day if the city’s R value remains at 1.1, according to Nishiura’s projection. But new cases will plateau if steps are taken to restrict food establishments, and will rapidly decline if countermeasures similar to those used during the first state of emergency are used and the R value drops to 0.72.

Shigeru Omi, president of the Japan Community Healthcare Organization and chair of the central government’s novel coronavirus subcommittee, said during a news conference Tuesday evening that declaring a state of emergency for only one month won’t bring the affected regions back down to Stage 3 on the government’s four-level virus alert scale.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga speaks during a news conference at the Prime Minister's Office in Tokyo on Monday. | BLOOMBERG
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga speaks during a news conference at the Prime Minister’s Office in Tokyo on Monday. | BLOOMBERG

When then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared the first state of emergency early last April, the order encompassed Tokyo and six prefectures: Kanagawa, Chiba, Saitama, Osaka, Hyogo and Fukuoka. Not only was it expanded nationwide nine days later, the expiration date of the declaration was postponed from May 6 to May 30 after the virus failed to subside. Ultimately the order was lifted on May 25.

This time, Suga is expected to declare an emergency for about a month in Tokyo and Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama prefectures, which together comprise most of the greater metropolitan area surrounding the capital.

In response to Omi’s comments, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said Wednesday the government was considering all possible measures to reduce the risk of infection — not just in food establishments, but others indirectly connected to food establishments as well.

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike and her counterparts in Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama have asked all food establishments to close by 8 p.m. and for them to stop serving alcohol by 7 p.m. during the state of emergency.

On Tuesday, education minister Koichi Hagiuda said schools would not be asked to close during the state of emergency.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.