• Jiji, staff report, Reuters

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Japan reported 3,853 new cases of novel coronavirus infection on Tuesday.

The daily figure topped 3,000 for the first time in two days but was far below the more than 5,300 reported a week ago. The country confirmed 104 new deaths linked to the virus, including 14 in Osaka Prefecture and 13 each in Tokyo and Kanagawa Prefecture.

The number of COVID-19 patients with severe symptoms nationwide as of midnight Monday dropped by 21 from a day before, to 996, falling below 1,000 for the first time in more than a week, according to the health ministry.

Tokyo reported 1,026 new COVID-19 cases, returning above the 1,000 threshold a day after posting the lowest daily figure since Dec. 28.

The figure comes more than two weeks into a coronavirus state of emergency.

The number of severely ill patients in Tokyo remained static at 148, the metropolitan government said in a statement.

People in their 20s made up the largest group of new cases in the capital by age, at 189, followed by 164 in their 30s and 145 in their 40s. There were 270 new cases among people age 65 or over. The cumulative total in the capital is now 95,534.

Tokyo’s daily figure comes after 5,881 tests were conducted Saturday. It usually takes around three days for tests to produce results.

Tokyo has revised its contact-tracing strategy to prioritize outreach to higher-risk individuals affected by coronavirus, according to a letter sent by the metropolitan government to public health authorities last week.

The change comes as a third wave of the pandemic overwhelms the nation’s public health centers, which handle everything from tests and tracing to finding hospital beds.

Despite its early success, experts have warned that the country’s strategy to trace clusters of cases rather than conduct mass tests could face limits as virus cases surge nationwide.

Aichi Prefecture reported 215 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, topping 200 for the first time in three days, while Osaka confirmed 343 cases, falling below 400 for the second straight day.

Two variant cases of the coronavirus were also newly confirmed, both among women in their 30s, bringing the cumulative number of such infections in Japan to 53, according to the ministry.

One of the women arrived at Kansai International Airport in Osaka on Jan. 17 after staying in Vietnam, while the other, who had been to South Africa, flew to Narita International Airport in Chiba Prefecture on Jan. 19. Both have exhibited symptoms such as a cough and dehydration.

On Monday, the daily number of cases confirmed nationwide stood at 2,764 on Monday, falling below 3,000 for the first time in 28 days.

Asked Monday if the falling figures pointed to a wider trend, the government’s top spokesman said a closer look was needed.

“Recently, the total number of infections in Tokyo and and three surrounding prefectures has been gradually decreasing, but one issue is that we we have to view the number by the day of the week,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said, adding that it is necessary to continue to analyzing the situation to determine if there is a downward trend.

Also Monday, the health ministry said that the coronavirus variant spreading in Britain has been detected from a Tokyo man in his 40s. The man had been suspected of being the source of infection for a Tokyo girl under 10 who tested positive for the variant on Friday. The man has never been abroad, and his case is thus suspected to be community-acquired infection.

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