• Kyodo

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Nearly 1,000 COVID-19 patients who requested an emergency ambulance service in Tokyo during the first week of August were turned away by hospitals, the Tokyo Fire Department said Thursday, as record levels of coronavirus infections in the capital outstrip hospitals’ capacity to treat patients.

Of 1,668 people who were isolating at home or designated facilities and sought an ambulance due to the worsening of their condition, 959 could not be accepted at any medical institution, it said.

Tokyo has been under a fourth COVID-19 emergency since July 12, but the resurgence of infections shows no sign of abating, forcing the Suga administration to set a new policy earlier in the month under which more COVID-19 patients with mild or in some cases moderate symptoms will be asked to recover at home to cope with a hospital bed shortage.

The capital confirmed 5,534 new coronavirus cases Thursday, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government said, the second-highest daily number after the 5,773 reported Aug. 13.

Most of the 709 patients taken to hospitals in the Tokyo Fire Department’s dispatch area between Aug. 2 and 8 were diverted or had to wait until they were eventually accepted, according to the department.

For 629 of them, it took more than an hour to be admitted to a hospital, with 52 spending five hours or more in transit before a bed became available, it said.

Japan’s top COVID-19 adviser earlier Thursday called on the central government and municipalities to set up temporary treatment sites and make more lodging facilities available for COVID-19 patients while cautioning about a government-backed program that will allow school students to be spectators at the Tokyo Paralympics, which open Tuesday.

“The status of infections is a lot worse now” compared with when the 17-day Tokyo Olympics were held from July 23, Shigeru Omi, chairman of a government subcommittee on the coronavirus response, told a parliamentary hearing.

He added his panel has not been consulted by the government about how the Paralympics should be held.

The International Paralympic Committee, the Games’ organizing committee, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and the central government agreed earlier this week to bar spectators at all Paralympic venues, which are located in Tokyo, Chiba, Saitama and Shizuoka prefectures.

But they confirmed that as an exception, students of local schools taking part in a government-backed educational program will be allowed to watch competitions in person, if municipalities and schools wish.

Despite anti-virus measures taken under the state of emergency and quasi-emergency status in hard-hit areas, Japan is grappling with its largest wave of infections yet, with the nationwide tally of new cases topping 25,000 in another record high on Thursday.

The government has decided to extend the coronavirus state of emergency covering Tokyo and five prefectures to Sept. 12, beyond the previous end date of Aug. 31, while expanding the measure to seven more prefectures.

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