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It’s been a weekend of good and bad figures: On Sunday, new COVID-19 cases in Tokyo dipped below 1,000 for the first time in 12 days. But on Saturday, Japan’s total number of deaths linked to the disease overtook 5,000, jumping by 2,000 in less than a month. The daily death toll hit a new record of 108 on Friday.

Halfway through the state of emergency scheduled to end on Feb. 7, new cases do appear to have peaked, but there is still a real possibility that the emergency may be extended further and yet more areas added, Bloomberg reports. Several factors — including record severe cases and the rate of older people being infected — are causing concern among health experts.

It also appears that the government’s now-suspended Go To Travel tourism campaign did contribute to the recent sharp increase in infections, despite claims to the contrary. Somewhat predictably, a new Kyoto University study concludes that “the number of travel-associated COVID-19 cases that involved crossing of prefectural borders increased during the Go To Travel campaign.”

Policemen hold signs asking people to stay home in Tokyo on Friday. | AFP-JIJI
Policemen hold signs asking people to stay home in Tokyo on Friday. | AFP-JIJI

In the hopes of tamping down the spread, the Cabinet on Friday approved bills to penalize people who do not comply with antivirus measures. Among other sanctions, the legislation would introduce imprisonment for those who refuse hospitalization, a move opposition parties say is excessive.

Adding another worrying factor into the mix, the health ministry has announced that a Tokyo girl who has never been overseas has tested positive for the variant of the virus spreading in Britain. The news comes as scientists are working to isolate and analyze another new strain detected in four people who arrived in Japan from Brazil, which could take weeks or even months.

Sunday’s (and Saturday’s) new COVID-19 cases by prefecture (50 or over): Tokyo 986 (1,070), Kanagawa 554 (521), Osaka 421 (525), Chiba 328 (411), Saitama 285 (325), Fukuoka 224 (201), Hyogo 178 (225), Aichi 164 (246), Kyoto 115 (121), Hokkaido 94 (138), Okinawa 76 (79), Shizuoka 51 (50). Source: Japan COVID-19 Coronavirus Tracker

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