• BLOOMBERG, Staff report, Jiji

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Tokyo reported 555 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, the highest daily total since early February, as the capital’s governor signaled preparations were underway for bolstered anti-virus measures.

The capital recorded 555 cases on Wednesday as officials feared a “rebound” in cases had begun to hit earlier than expected, amid an increase in virus variants. Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike said the metropolitan government was preparing to request that the central government apply quasi-emergency measures to the capital similar to the state of emergency it exited on March 21.

Tokyo’s figure has continued a steady uptick seen over the past week, after it reported 414 cases on March 31, and topped 500 for the first time since 639 new cases were recorded on Feb. 6.

The seven-day average of cases in the capital is now 417.0, compared to a weekly average of 360.7 reported last Wednesday.

Among the new cases in the capital, 178 people were in their 20s, 97 were in their 30s and 84 were in their 40s, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government said in a statement. Cases involving patients age 65 or older totaled 63.

The number of severely ill COVID-19 patients in Tokyo according to the metropolitan government’s criteria fell by three to 41. The cumulative total of cases in the capital is now 123,905.

The extra steps, already imposed on the Osaka area, are broadly similar to the emergency declaration, itself much less strict than lockdowns seen in European capitals. Bars and restaurants in urban areas would likely to be asked to close early, and may face the threat of fines for non-compliance.

Osaka, the current center of the pandemic in Japan, has seen cases hit record highs since lifting its state of emergency in February. The prefecture has a population just over half that of Tokyo’s, but saw 878 infections on Wednesday, topping those in the capital for almost two weeks. Experts fear that the sudden surge seen in Osaka could be repeated in Tokyo.

“Tokyo could go the way of Osaka,” Shigeru Omi, the head of a panel of experts advising the government, said in parliament on Monday. “It takes a week or two after the lifting of the state of emergency for this impact to appear.”

The slow pace of vaccine rollout is adding to concerns. Japan is set to begin vaccinating over-65s starting Monday, but supply constraints mean mass inoculations won’t begin in earnest until May. Less than 1% of the population have received just one dose of vaccine.

Japan imposed the state of emergency in January, initially on Tokyo before expanding to other areas. Despite lacking the ability to enforce lockdowns, the steps mostly targeting bars and restaurants had immediate success in reducing new infections. But the pace of decline slowed, with new cases hitting a floor of around 300 in Tokyo in early March, even before the emergency was lifted.

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