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Signs are surfacing that Tokyo might experience an explosive resurgence of COVID-19 cases as a nationwide holiday period came to an end Sunday, with the capital’s consultation hotline deluged with inquiries from residents struck by symptoms, including fevers.

The situation is eerily reminiscent of early January, when Tokyo was hit by the biggest wave of cases yet, driving its medical system to the breaking point and leaving many patients without proper care as they waited to be hospitalized.

With the conclusion of the Golden Week holiday period, metropolitan government officials are bracing for a worst-case scenario that they fear may be in the cards.

Their concerns stem largely from a recent spike in the number of calls to Tokyo’s so-called fever consultation center, which typically accepts inquiries on ill health from those without immediate access to primary doctors. How many calls the hotline receives is considered a bellwether for overall virus trends in Tokyo.

The past week saw the daily number of calls to the hotline soar well beyond the 2,000 mark for several consecutive days, reaching 2,700 on Wednesday. The last time the center was inundated with so many calls was late December through early January, when the capital was in the grip of a fresh wave of infections that ultimately led to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declaring a second state of emergency for Tokyo and its surrounding prefectures.

The number of such inquiries was relatively subdued throughout the bulk of February and March, when the second state of emergency was in place, topping 1,000 only occasionally.

But once the declaration was lifted in late March, the figure began to gradually rise in April and surpassed the 2,000 mark on April 29 for the first time since Jan. 17 — a trend that persisted for a few days afterward.

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike warns of a severe situation over the spread of COVID-19 in the capital. | KYODO
Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike warns of a severe situation over the spread of COVID-19 in the capital. | KYODO

Keenly aware of the surge, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike has called for continued vigilance.

“For the past four days, the number of calls to our fever consultation center has continued to go beyond 2,000, and I must say the situation remains tough,” she told reporters Wednesday evening.

One possible reason behind the recent surge is the fact that many local clinics closed their businesses during the holidays, leaving those struck by fevers relying on the hotline instead for instructions.

The closure of doctors’ office hours during the Golden Week holidays has affected Tokyo’s testing capacity, too. The seven-day average number of coronavirus tests reported as of Wednesday stood at 5,535 in Tokyo, significantly lower than the 8,544 from a week before, according to the capital’s weekly panel monitoring the COVID-19 situation.

The decreased testing is believed to have played a role in the relatively low case tallies that Tokyo experienced in the middle of the holidays — 609 on Tuesday, 621 on Wednesday and 591 on Thursday.

On Sunday, the capital confirmed 1,032 new cases, topping 1,000 for the second straight day.

“It is possible that the numbers of new cases that come out during and after the holidays end up not being taken as seriously as they should, because of the declined testing caused by doctors’ non-businesses hours and delayed reports of test results,” an expert told the metropolitan panel Thursday.

But given the recent spread of a new, more contagious variant of the virus known as N501Y, it is imperative that “we do not underestimate” the figures that surface from the holiday season, the expert said.

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