• staff report, Jiji, KYODO

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Osaka Prefecture on Tuesday reported a single-day record 55 deaths linked to COVID-19 and 974 new cases of the virus as Tokyo saw 925 infections amid growing fears over the spread of more virulent variants of the coronavirus.

The figure in Osaka brought the cumulative death toll there to 1,785. Aichi Prefecture meanwhile confirmed a record 578 new cases Tuesday, with the daily figure topping 400 for the fifth straight day.

The figure in the capital came after Tokyo saw 573 cases a day earlier. Case numbers on Mondays are usually lower than other days since some testing sites are closed over the weekend.

Tuesday’s caseload in Tokyo was also higher than that of a week ago, when the capital saw 609 cases, and two weeks ago, on April 27, when it recorded 828 infections.

As the variants continue to wreak havoc across the country, the health ministry said earlier Tuesday that the number of COVID-19 patients in serious condition nationwide hit a record for the third-straight day, registering 1,177 cases.

Of Tuesday’s total cases in Tokyo, people age 65 or over, who are at high risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms, accounted for 115 cases, while the number of patients in serious condition under the metropolitan government’s criteria came to 81, up by three from Monday.

The total of new infections recorded in Tokyo in the week through Tuesday averaged 824.3, compared to 842.3 a week earlier.

Tokyo is one of four prefectures currently under Japan’s third state of emergency over the pandemic as it prepares to host the Olympic and Paralympic Games this summer.

Starting Wednesday, Aichi and Fukuoka prefectures are slated to come under the emergency declaration. The National Governors’ Association on Monday requested the government to consider expanding the declaration nationwide to introduce stronger measures against more contagious variants.

But Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister in charge of the government’s coronavirus response, said Tuesday that the government has no plans to do so at present out of concerns over restricting private rights, adding that new cases have not surged in some prefectures.

At an online meeting, the governors of all 47 prefectures also voiced disapproval of the fact that the government is slow to implement quasi-states of emergency, to which the minister responded that the government would “make decisions as soon as possible.”

“It’s important that (prefectures) implement stronger measures ahead of these decisions,” Nishimura added.

On Monday, a total of 4,938 new cases were confirmed nationwide, with the daily number falling below 5,000 for the first time in four days. The country also saw 71 deaths linked to the virus the same day, including 19 in Hyogo Prefecture.

The 19 people in Hyogo included an elderly man with a serious underlying health issue who was under treatment at his home in Kobe. He was the fifth COVID-19 patient in the city who died while waiting to be hospitalized. The man’s symptoms were light when he tested positive for the virus on May 1, but his condition deteriorated Saturday, and he died Sunday.

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