Japan has expanded the coronavirus state of emergency in Tokyo to neighbouring areas and the western city of Osaka following a record surge in infections while the capital hosts the Olympics.
The country’s prime minister Yoshihide Suga declared an emergency in Saitama, Kanagawa and Chiba, near Tokyo, as well as in the western city of Osaka, effective from Monday until August 31.
Emergency measures already in place in Tokyo will be extended until the end of August, after the Olympics and well into the Paralympics, which start on August 24.
Tokyo has reported a record rise in cases for three days in a row, including 3,865 on Thursday.
The cases have doubled since last week, and officials have warned they may hit 4,500 a day within two weeks.
Officials said 2,995 were taken to hospital, about half the current capacity of 6,000 beds, with some hospitals already full.
#COVID19 is a tough opponent. But we can all win 🥇 over this pandemic by combining these 5 tactics:— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) July 29, 2021
3⃣ Keep physical distance
4⃣ Cough/sneeze away into your elbow
5⃣ Open windows as much as possible#pictograms #Olympics #Tokyo2020 #AGoal4All
More than 10,000 others were isolating at home or designated hotels, with nearly 5,600 waiting at home while health centres decide where they will be treated.
Tokyo is also setting up a facility for those requiring oxygen while waiting for hospital beds.
At a meeting of government experts, health minister Norihisa Tamura said the spike in Tokyo despite being under the state of emergency for two weeks is an “alarming development that is different from anything we have seen before”.
Nationwide, Japan reported 10,687 confirmed cases on Thursday, exceeding 10,000 for the first time. It has recorded 15,166 fatalities from Covid-19, including 2,288 in Tokyo, since the pandemic began.
Japan has kept its cases and deaths lower than many other countries, but its seven-day rolling average is growing and now stands at 28 per 100,000 people nationwide and 88 per 100,000 in Tokyo, according to the health ministry.
This compares to 18.5 in the United States, 48 in the UK and 2.8 in India, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
The emergency measures focus on an alcohol ban at restaurants and karaoke bars and their shortened hours, but they have become less effective because people are only requested to stay and work from home.
Many were defying the measures as they have become tired of restrictive life and less cooperative even at a time when the more infectious Delta strain is spreading.
“We need to come up with measures that are effective,” Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike told a regular news conference Friday.
Noting that adults in their 30s or younger dominate recent cases, Ms Koike reminded them of following basic anti-virus measures including mask-wearing and avoiding having parties, urging them to “share the sense of crisis”.
As of Thursday, 27% of the Japanese population has been fully vaccinated. The percentage of the elderly who are fully vaccinated is 71.5%.