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Japan Extends COVID-19 Emergency Following Olympic Record Spikes

Japan Extends COVID-19 Emergency Following Olympic Record Spikes

TOKYO (AP) — Japan declared a coronavirus state of emergency in four additional areas on Friday, in addition to Tokyo, following record highs in infections as the capital prepares to host the Olympics.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declared a state of emergency in Saitama, Kanagawa, and Chiba, near Tokyo, as well as in the western city of Osaka, effective Monday until Aug. 31; emergency measures already in place in Tokyo and the southern island of Okinawa will be extended until the end of August, after the Olympics and well into the Paralympics, which begin Aug. 24.

Other areas, including Hokkaido, Kyoto, Hyogo, and Fukuoka, will face less severe emergency restrictions.

Tokyo has reported a record increase in cases for three days in a row, including 3,865 on Thursday and another 3,300 on Friday, with the number of cases having more than doubled since last week, though officials say the increase is unrelated to the Olympics.

Officials said 2,995 people have been admitted to hospitals, roughly half of the current capacity of 6,000 beds, with some hospitals already full. More than 10,000 people have been isolated at home or in designated hotels, with nearly 5,600 waiting at home while health centers decide where they will be treated. Tokyo is also setting up a facility for those who require oxygen while waiting for hospital beds.

“Infections are spreading at an enormous rate that we have never seen before in Tokyo and western metropolitan areas,” Suga said as he declared the expansion of the state of emergency, warning that if the current rate of spread of the more contagious delta variant continues, Japan’s medical system may collapse.

Japan reported 10,687 cases nationwide on Thursday, breaking the 10,000 mark for the first time, and has recorded 15,166 COVID-19 fatalities, 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 rising and now stands at 28 per 100,000 people nationwide and 88 per 100,000 in Tokyo, according to the Health Ministry, compared to 18.5 in the United States, 48 in the United Kingdom, and 2.8 in India, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

The emergency measures focus on an alcohol ban in restaurants and karaoke bars, as well as shortened hours, but they have become less effective because people are only asked to stay and work at home, and many have been defying the measures as they grow tired of living in a restricted environment.

Suga stated that his main strategy will remain largely unchanged — to target dining — and that subsidies will be paid faster to cooperating business owners, and local authorities will patrol “to increase the effectiveness of the measures.”

Earlier Friday, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, noting that adults in their 30s or younger dominate recent cases, reminded them of basic anti-virus precautions, such as wearing masks and avoiding parties, and urged them to “share the sense of crisis.”

As of Thursday, 27% of the Japanese population had been fully vaccinated, with the elderly accounting for 71.5% of the total.

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