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Officials in Tokyo alarmed as COVID cases hit record highs

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By AP
People walk across a crossing near Shimbashi Station in Tokyo Thursday, July 29, 2021, a day after the record-high coronavirus cases were found in the Olympics host city.
People walk across a crossing near Shimbashi Station in Tokyo Thursday, July 29, 2021, a day after the record-high coronavirus cases were found in the Olympics host city.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Kantaro Komiya
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Japanese officials sounded the alarm Thursday after Tokyo reported record-breaking coronavirus cases for two straight days with the Olympics well underway.

“We have never experienced the expansion of the infections of this magnitude,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told reporters. He said the new cases were soaring not only in the Tokyo area but across the country.

Tokyo reported 3,177 new cases on Wednesday, up from 2,848 on Tuesday, setting an all-time high and exceeding 3,000 for the first time.

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 in Tokyo, according to the Health Ministry. This compares to 18.5 in the United States, 48 in Britain and 2.8 in India, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

“While almost nothing is helping to slow the infections, there are many factors that can accelerate them,” said Dr. Shigeru Omi, a top government medical adviser, noting the Olympics and summer vacation. “The biggest risk is the lack of a sense of crisis and without it, the infections will further expand and put medical systems under severe strain.”

Tokyo has been under its fourth state of emergency since July 12, ahead of the Olympics, which began last Friday despite widespread public opposition and concern that the Games could worsen the outbreak.

People are still roaming the streets despite stay-at-home requests, making the measures largely ineffective at a time the more infectious delta strain is spreading, he said. “We have never seen the infections spread so rapidly."

Alarmed by the surge in Tokyo, the governors of three prefectures adjacent to the capital said they plan to ask Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to place their areas under the state of emergency too.

Experts say Tokyo’s surge is being propelled by the delta variant of the virus and there is no evidence of the disease being transmitted from Olympic participants to the general public.

Tokyo officials said Thursday that two foreign Olympic athletes are currently hospitalised and 38 others are self-isolating at designated hotels in the city. Gov. Yuriko Koike urged the organisers to make sure not to burden Tokyo's hospitals.

The IOC’s medical director says COVID-19 cases at the Tokyo Games are not burdening the city’s medical system.

Officials say that from July 1 through Wednesday, 198 people accredited for the Tokyo Games have tested positive for COVID-19, including 23 athletes. Three of the new cases from Wednesday were athletes staying in the Olympic Village.

Olympic organisers say the two hospital cases are not severe.

Medical Director Richard Budgett says care for athletes is being provided by their own team medical staff and a polyclinic at the village.

He says he’s confident “the Olympics are being run without actually affecting that essential secondary care and hospital provision” for residents of Japan.

Tokyo, meanwhile, reported 3,177 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, setting an all-time high and exceeding 3,000 for the first time.

Experts say Tokyo’s surge is being propelled by the new, more contagious delta variant of the virus. There is no evidence of the disease being transmitted from Olympics participants to the general public.

Nationwide, Japan reported more than 9,500 confirmed cases, a new record, on Wednesday for a total of about 892,000, with about 15,000 deaths.

As of Wednesday, 26.3% of the Japanese population has been fully vaccinated. The percentage of the elderly who are fully vaccinated is 70%, or 24.8 million people.