Japan expanded its coronavirus state of emergency on Wednesday for a second week in a row, adding eight more prefectures as a surge in infections fuelled by the delta variant strains the country’s health-care system.
The government last week extended the state of emergency until Sept. 12 and expanded the areas covered to 13 prefectures from six, including Tokyo. With four new prefectures added to a separate “quasi-emergency” status, 33 of Japan’s 47 prefectures are now under some type of emergency measures. Eight prefectures were upgraded from quasi-emergency status to a full emergency.
“In order to protect the people’s lives, the priority is to maintain the health-care system,” Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said as he announced the emergency. “In order to overcome this crisis led by the delta strain, I seek further co-operation from everyone.”
Japan’s state of emergency relies on requirements for eateries to close at 8 p.m. and not serve alcohol, but the measures are increasingly defied. Unenforceable social distancing and teleworking requests for the public and their employers are also largely ignored due to growing complacency.
The Japanese capital has been under the emergency since July 12, but new daily cases have increased more than tenfold since then to about 5,000 in Tokyo and 25,000 nationwide. Hospital beds are quickly filling and many people must now recover at home, including some who require supplemental oxygen.
The government has faced criticism for holding this summer’s Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics despite strong opposition from the public. Officials deny any direct link between the games and the spike in infections.
‘No signs’ of cases slowing in Tokyo
More than 35,000 patients in Tokyo are recovering at home, about one-third of them unable to find a hospital or hotel vacancies immediately. Only a small percentage of hospitals are taking virus patients, either for financial reasons or because they lack the capability to treat the infections, experts say.
Japan has weathered the pandemic better than many other countries, with around 15,600 deaths nationwide since the start, but its vaccination efforts lag behind other wealthy nations. About 40 per cent of the population has been fully vaccinated, mainly elderly people.
Rising infections among schoolchildren and teenagers could accelerate the surge as they begin returning to school after the summer vacation, said Dr. Shigeru Omi, the top government medical adviser. He proposed schools curtail activity and urged high schools and colleges to return to online classes.
“Infections in Tokyo are showing no signs of slowing, and the severely tight medical systems will continue for a while,” he told a parliamentary session Wednesday.
–From The Associated Press, last updated at 7:05 a.m. ET
What’s happening in Canada
What’s happening around the world
As of early Wednesday morning, more than 213.2 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University. The reported global death toll stood at more than 4.4 million.
In the Americas, the United States could get COVID-19 under control by early next year if vaccinations ramp up, Dr. Anthony Fauci said, a day after Pfizer won full FDA approval for its shot, with more potential approvals coming in the weeks ahead.
In the Middle East, Iran on Tuesday reported a record daily 709 deaths from COVID-19 as the worst-hit country in the Middle East faced a fifth surge in infections.
In the Asia-Pacific region, South Korea has reported 2,155 new coronavirus cases, nearly matching a record daily increase set earlier this month amid an alarming spread of infections. With Wednesday’s report, the country has tallied more than 1,000 new cases for 50 consecutive days, including a record 2,221 on Aug. 11.
Pakistan on Wednesday reported 141 deaths from COVID-19, one of its highest tallies since May. According to Pakistan’s National Command and Operations Center, more than 4,000 new coronavirus infections were also reported in the past 24 hours.
In Africa, Nigeria has recently approved China’s Sinopharm vaccine against COVID-19.
Europe’s medicines regulator has approved additional manufacturing sites for mRNA-based coronavirus vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.
Meanwhile, Switzerland is being hit by a fourth wave with a “very worrying” rise in infections, the head of the government’s crisis team at the Federal Office for Public Health said.
-From The Associated Press, Reuters and CBC News, last updated at 7 a.m. ET