Japan leader’s medical adviser urges tougher virus measures

TOKYO (AP) — A key medical adviser to Japan’s prime minister said Thursday that surging infections in the Tokyo area are severely affecting medical systems, and urged the government to take stricter measures to drastically reduce people’s activity.

“If the infections continue to surge at the current pace, we won’t be able to save the lives that can be saved,” Dr. Shigeru Omi said at a news conference. “The situation is like a disaster.”

The Japanese capital has been reporting record numbers of new infections, with daily cases tripling during the Olympics that ended Sunday. It logged 4,989 new cases on Thursday, and hospital beds are rapidly filling up. Nearly 20,000 people with milder symptoms are now isolating at home to make room for those who are more seriously ill, officials said.

Japan has done better than many other countries without forcing a lockdown, but is now going through what experts say is its biggest crisis since the pandemic started. Nationwide new infections hit a high of 15,812 on Wednesday, exceeding the previous record reported Saturday.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has faced criticism for going forward with the Olympics despite widespread public opposition, but has denied the Games caused Tokyo’s upsurge. Tokyo is to host the Paralympics starting Aug. 24, and experts say it should be held without fans like the Olympics.

Tokyo has been under what it calls a state of emergency for a month, its fourth since the pandemic began late last year, but the measures are mostly unenforceable requests that are increasingly ignored as many people become fatigued by them.

Omi urged the government to restrict service hours or customer numbers at grocery and deli sections of department stores and press companies to have their employees work from home. He also said health officials should increase testing, while getting more medical institutions to help in the effort to establish communitywide systems that provide support for those isolating at home.

“Otherwise, we are going to see more tragic cases at home,” he said.

Japan’s vaccination campaign is making good progress despite a slow start and about 36% of the people are fully vaccinated. But Omi said that is not enough to slow the surge prompted by the more infectious delta variant.

Japan’s seven-day rolling average of new cases stands at 11.2 per 100,000 people, compared to 2.8 in India, 37 in the United States and 41 in Britain, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Tokyo metropolitan government taskforce experts made similar warnings earlier Thursday.

“The infections are raging and becoming uncontrollable,” said Dr. Norio Ohmagari, director of the Disease Control and Prevention Center. “It’s almost a disaster, a situation where people have no choice but protect their lives on their own.”

Masataka Inokuchi, a Tokyo Medical Association vice president who is also on the Tokyo metropolitan pandemic taskforce, said emergency medicine and ordinary treatment have been disrupted and could further deteriorate if the infections further accelerate.

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike said officials are coordinating with hospitals, community physicians and health centers to set up a system to monitor or visit home isolators when they need attention, including oxygen and medication. Tokyo is also securing about 6,200 hotel rooms staffed by medical workers and has set up a facility for patients to stand by for hospital beds.

Koike urged residents to take social and physical distancing more seriously.

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