Coronavirus patients and gold medalists continue to emerge every day in Japan, but one of these groups is garnering more attention than the other as virus concerns are sidelined by the excitement of the Tokyo Games.

A resurgence in new cases is often followed roughly two weeks later by an uptick in patients experiencing severe symptoms, placing a heavy burden on the country’s medical system. With the number of new cases growing in major cities, it seems the outbreak in Japan is bound to get worse before it gets better.

With new cases surging to unprecedented heights, residents of the capital are at a greater risk of becoming infected now than at any point since the beginning of the pandemic, said Koji Wada, a professor of public health at the International University of Health and Welfare and a member of health ministry’s coronavirus advisory board.

“And yet, people are going out, shopping and meeting with friends as if the city isn’t under a state of emergency,” Wada said. “Public officials in Tokyo and throughout the country need to speak more clearly, but the message isn’t getting across because of the Olympics.”

Less than a week has passed since Olympic competitions started on Wednesday and the list of COVID-19 cases among participants continues to grow every day. As of Monday, the Tokyo Organising Committee had reported 148 infections among athletes and staff since the beginning of July.

Organizers reported 16 new cases Monday, including three infections among athletes, disrupting the Games for dozens competing, working or volunteering at competitive venues or the Olympic Village.

As the virus spreads within and outside of the Olympic “bubble,” the burden on local hospitals continues to grow.

Japan saw 5,020 cases on Sunday, the second time the figure topped 5,000 in the past week. Tokyo reported 1,429 cases Monday, a day after logging 1,763 new cases — the most ever for a Sunday and the sixth consecutive day the capital saw more than 1,000 new infections.

The last time Tokyo saw such a large outbreak was in early January.

A couple poses in front of the Olympic Rings in Tokyo's Nihonbashi district on Saturday. | AFP-JIJI
A couple poses in front of the Olympic Rings in Tokyo’s Nihonbashi district on Saturday. | AFP-JIJI

The number of patients with severe symptoms in Tokyo is steadily growing, reaching 78 on Monday, up from 60 the week before. The figure may seem low compared with when it topped 150 at the end of January, but the bed occupancy rate for patients with severe symptoms in the capital was 56.2% as of Saturday, above the 50% mark the central government deems to be Stage 4 — the highest point on a four-level scale — which calls for the prefecture to take immediate action to prevent the collapse of the medical system.

The Tokyo Games officially kicked off on Friday amid concern and criticism over their safety. Nearly all spectators were banned from attending competitive events in person to prevent the virus from spreading among fans.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike met for an hour at the Prime Minister’s Office to exchange opinions on the Games and the virus situation.

“We need to impose more effective measures,” Koike told reporters after the meeting. “We also exchanged opinions on how to restore people’s lives while preventing the spread of infections.

“We also agreed that the Tokyo Olympics are going very smoothly.”

The number of deaths reported daily in Tokyo, meanwhile, has mostly been in the single-digits since the end of March, compared with the up to 40 reported daily at the end of January.

New cases are rising in the capital’s neighboring prefectures, with 560 in Kanagawa, 449 in Saitama and 509 in Chiba on Monday. Officials also reported 116 in Okinawa Prefecture and 137 in Hokkaido, with the latter being where Olympic marathons and other competitions will take place.

The surge in the capital began literally days after its third state of emergency ended on June 20. Coronavirus measures had been downgraded to more lenient quasi-emergency measures but, owing to a rebound in new cases, Suga reinstated a state of emergency in Tokyo on July 12 and extended the order in Okinawa.

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