Experts see “a sense of crisis” over the coronavirus pandemic waning among people in the Tokyo metropolitan area, where a decline in new infection cases is slowing.
Weekly new coronavirus cases were between 60% to 70% of the week-before levels from late January to early February in Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures of Chiba, Kanagawa and Saitama, according to data shown Wednesday to the health ministry by an expert advisory panel, but that pace of decline has slowed.
As of Tuesday, the figures were 83% in the capital, 94% in Chiba and Kanagawa and 73% in Saitama. The panel concluded that the rate of decline has been slowing since mid-February.
Experts are especially concerned about clusters of infections that are difficult to detect.
While nightlife districts were major sources of infections in the second coronavirus wave in Japan last summer, there are many untraceable cases in the current third wave, they say.
“The existing measures cannot reduce cases as swiftly as before,” said National Institute of Infectious Diseases head Takaji Wakita, who leads the panel.
Wakita then noted that an effective measure would be to set up virus testing centers in downtown areas.
Satoshi Kamayachi, another member of the panel, said that when the current coronavirus state of emergency was declared in Tokyo and the three prefectures in early January, “there was a sense of crisis” among residents in the metropolitan area “that infection would spread nationwide.”
“But it has now faded a little,” he added.
Shigeru Omi, the chair of the government’s subcommittee on its COVID-19 response, warned the governors of the region of a possibility of a rebound in cases unless strengthened anti-infection measures are taken.
The government decided to extend the state of emergency in the country’s most heavily populated region, initially set to end on Sunday, by two weeks in order to bring cases down further.
Kamayachi, a Japan Medical Association board director, pointed out that “two weeks should be regarded as the smallest unit of extension.”
“During the extra two weeks, the central and local governments must send out a unified message and clarify what they aim to achieve,” he stressed.
Another panel member underscored the importance of avoiding a fourth wave and finding effective ways to fight the pandemic in addition to requesting eateries to shorten operating hours.
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