Japan on Wednesday reported more than 4,000 new cases of coronavirus as the country grapples with a fourth wave of the pandemic.
The figure surpassed 4,000 for the first time since Jan. 28, when some areas including Tokyo were under a state of emergency.
Osaka Prefecture reported a record 1,130 daily coronavirus cases, as the area struggles with a surge in the number of people infected with a highly contagious variant of the virus. Osaka logged 1,099 COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, topping 1,000 for the first time.
Also on Wednesday, the head of the government's coronavirus panel acknowledged that Japan had entered a fourth wave and urged more of a sense of crisis over the situation.
Shigeru Omi, an infectious disease expert who chairs the government's subcommittee, said in the Diet that the government should expand areas subject to tougher anti-virus measures due to rising cases "in an extremely swift and nimble manner."
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, however, took a cautious stance as to whether the country has entered the new phase of infections, playing down concerns at an Upper House plenary session.
"I don't see a big wave (of infections) nationwide," he said.
Omi's warning came as the government is considering adding some prefectures to the list of areas requiring the quasi-state of emergency that involves shorter business hours for restaurants and bars, among other anti-virus steps.
The quasi-state of emergency is already in place in six prefectures including Tokyo and Osaka. The capital on Wednesday reported 591 new infections and Hyogo Prefecture, which neighbors Osaka Prefecture, reported a record 507 cases. Okinawa Prefecture, meanwhile, confirmed 137 cases, topping 100 for the second straight day.
The figure in the capital was the highest since the government's second state of emergency ended on March 21 and more than the last two Wednesdays — 555 on April 7 and 414 on March 31.
Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister in charge of the state's coronavirus response, said the central government is working together with the Saitama and Aichi prefectural governments to beef up anti-virus measures, saying a recent surge in highly contagious virus variant cases in the two areas is worrisome.
In a separate Diet committee meeting, Omi noted that Osaka could be returned to a state of emergency.
"It is necessary to fully consider the possibility of issuing a state of emergency" in Osaka, which entails stronger anti-virus measures such as closure of eateries and heavier punishments for noncompliance compared with the quasi-emergency, he said.
Omi, a doctor and a former World Health Organization regional director for the Western Pacific, proposed that the government play a leading role in supporting the strained medical system in the western Japan prefecture by sending staff from other areas.
Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura has said he will consider asking the central government to declare a fresh state of emergency in his prefecture. The previous round was in place in Osaka from mid-January to late February.
Other prefectures that saw large numbers of cases included:
- 216 in Aichi Prefecture, the most since Jan. 28.
- 205 in Kanagawa Prefecture, the most since the second state of emergency was lifted March 21.
- 128 in Kyoto Prefecture, the highest since Jan. 28.
- 94 in Nara Prefecture, the second highest total ever.
- 51 in Ibaraki Prefecture, the most since March 28.
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