• Kyodo

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Japan’s daily total of COVID-19 cases surpassed 20,000 on Friday, logging a record figure for the third straight day, while the number of patients with severe symptoms also hit a new high as concerns over a possible collapse of the country’s medical system continue to mount.

Tokyo, just over a month into its fourth state of emergency, logged a record 5,773 new infections the same day, topping the previous high of 5,042 logged on Aug. 5, the metropolitan government said. The capital’s seven-day rolling average of infections has risen to 4,155.7 per day, up 8.8% from the previous week.

The number of COVID-19 patients with severe symptoms across Japan rose to a record high 1,478 as of Thursday, surpassing the previous record of 1,413 logged in late May, the health ministry said.

Tokyo reported a record 227 patients with severe symptoms on Friday, topping the previous high of 218 logged a day earlier.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who called on the public to avoid traveling over the summer holidays, pledged to work with local governments to establish a system where people recuperating at home can be contacted.

“I believe that the medical system in Tokyo is in a dire situation. Under such circumstances, it is the greatest responsibility of the government to protect the lives of the people,” he said at a press conference Friday.

Cases of seriously ill COVID-19 patients have been rapidly increasing nationwide since mid-July.

Such cases have risen among those in their 40s and 50s due to slowness in vaccinations mainly in Tokyo, while young people have also been among patients with serious symptoms, defined as those requiring assistance by ventilators, artificial heart-lung bypass devices or treatment at intensive care units.

Experts at Thursday’s metropolitan government meeting on monitoring COVID-19 described the current coronavirus situation in the capital as “a disaster-level emergency situation that is out of control.”

Friday’s nationwide figure, based on a Kyodo News tally compiled from official information, topped the 18,889 new COVID-19 cases logged the previous day, when 20 of the nation’s 47 prefectures reported record new infections.

Areas neighboring Tokyo have also been struggling to deal with the rising number of COVID-19 patients requiring hospitalization.

Hideki Shinhama, assistant chief of the emergency services division of the Chiba city fire department, spoke of a case of a man in his 60s who was turned away from hospitals 58 times, requiring the emergency team to stay with him for over four hours.

“Even if we increase the number of emergency teams, they will only have to stay longer at the scene if there are no (hospital) beds available,” said Shinhama.

Tomoki Nakamori, head of the emergency disaster medical department at Yokohama Rosai Hospital in Kanagawa Prefecture, said the hospital has had to turn away 30 out of the roughly 40 admission requests they receive per day due to beds being almost full.

According to Nakamori, the hospital has to handle admissions not only of COVID-19 patients but also people with heatstroke or injuries.

“The situation is the same throughout Kanagawa Prefecture. All hospitals have no choice but push through and increase the number of beds, including for patients with general injuries or illnesses,” Nakamori said.

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