• Kyodo, STAFF REPORT

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Japan's daily count of coronavirus cases exceeded 10,000 on Wednesday for the first time in over four months, as a sixth wave of the pandemic spurred by the omicron variant continues to spread across the country.

Tokyo accounted for 2,198 of the cases, marking the first time in over four months that the count has surpassed 2,000. The daily figure reported by the metropolitan government was more than double the 962 cases logged Tuesday and around a fivefold increase from the previous week.

The latest seven-day average of new cases in the capital came to 1,148.7, up significantly from 135.6 a week ago. The number of severely ill patients under Tokyo's own criteria remained at four, the same as the previous day, with no new deaths confirmed.

Osaka Prefecture reported 1,711 new infections the same day, marking the first time the count has exceeded 1,000 since Sept. 15, and close to a sevenfold increase from the previous week.

The southern island prefecture of Okinawa confirmed a similar number of cases at 1,644, while the western prefecture of Yamaguchi saw a record 182 new infections.

Okinawa, Yamaguchi and the neighboring prefecture of Hiroshima have been under a quasi-state of emergency since Sunday, with dining establishments requested to cut business hours and stop serving alcohol.

Governors of the three prefectures suspect the spread of COVID-19 at U.S. bases in Okinawa and Yamaguchi contributed to the spike in infections.

Meanwhile, Hiroshima Prefecture is considering expanding its ongoing coronavirus pre-emergency designation to all of its 23 municipalities to cover 14 cities and nine towns, sources said. The pre-emergency status currently covers 10 cities and three towns, including the city of Hiroshima. The prefectural government will make a decision while monitoring the local infection situation and holding consultations with the central government, according to the sources.

Daily infections had been hovering in the hundreds since mid-September after the fifth wave of the pandemic was brought under control, but cases began to surge from the end of last year due to the emergence of the omicron strain.

The central government is considering shortening the interval between second and third COVID-19 vaccine shots from eight months to seven months for those under 65 from March onward, sources close the matter said Wednesday.

The interval for health care workers and elderly in nursing homes was shortened to six months last December, while senior citizens in general will be able to get their booster shots after a seven-month interval from February.

But Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura said during a news conference Wednesday the virus is spreading at a faster pace than before and "it has already become impossible to suppress the omicron variant through booster shots."

To prevent straining the medical system, the central government has changed its policy of hospitalizing all those infected with the omicron variant to only hospitalizing those at risk of developing severe symptoms.

The health ministry said Wednesday that around 16,000 medical institutions across the country will cooperate in providing home visits and monitoring of patients recuperating at home.

Japan has also boosted its medical capacity so it can admit 37,000 patients at hospitals, a 30% increase from the level marked when the country was experiencing the worst of the fifth wave of the pandemic.

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