Japan Prefectures Struggle to Control Infections

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike speaks at a meeting of the Tokyo metropolitan government’s task force in Tokyo on Tuesday.

It has been formally decided to extend the state of emergency related to the spread of the novel coronavirus. Although the number of newly infected people has started to decline in the four weeks since the state of emergency was declared, the medical system remains under pressure and the 10 prefectures subject to the declaration are struggling to find effective measures.

■ Flow of people

“To protect the lives of the residents of Tokyo, we must control the flow of people,” Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike said at a press conference Tuesday evening, calling on residents to refrain from going out unless necessary or urgent. Koike also urged companies to refrain from holding farewell parties and asked students not to take graduation trips.

On Jan. 7, the day the second state of emergency was declared, the number of newly infected people in Tokyo reached a record high of 2,447. Four weeks later, on Monday Feb. 1, the number dropped to 393, the lowest level since Dec. 21, which saw 392 newly confirmed infections.

However, the standard for Tokyo to lift the state of emergency is 500 new cases per day, and the average for the past week was 750. The number of people in the downtown area of Tokyo has decreased significantly at night, but only a 20% decrease has been seen during the daytime, according to a survey.

A metropolitan government official said, “The pace of the decrease in new infections may slow after the state of emergency is extended.”

■ Looking ahead to Games

According to an analysis released Monday by an advisory body to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, infections in restaurants have decreased, while clusters in care facilities for the elderly have increased. Accordingly, cases declined among people aged from their 20s to their 50s, but not among people in their 80s and 90s.

The torch relay for the Tokyo Olympics will start in Fukushima Prefecture in March, the next deadline for the lifting of the state of emergency, and there is not much time left before the opening of the Games. An executive of the Tokyo metropolitan government said: “There is no doubt that we need to control the spread of infections further in order to hold the Olympics. If the number of cases increases, we’ll have no choice but to seriously consider requesting businesses to close.”

■ Medical system strained

In Osaka Prefecture as well, the medical system is exhausted.

A record 654 new cases were confirmed in the prefecture on Jan. 8. Although the number has dropped to the 200 to 400 range since Jan. 25, hospital bed occupancy as of Monday remained high at 68.9% overall and 75.8% for critically ill patients.

Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura said to reporters Tuesday, “Extending the state of emergency at this point is unavoidable.” However, Yoshimura also said, “It should be lifted once the effects are evident.”

The prefectural government has been asking restaurants, bars and other establishments to shorten their business hours in parts of Osaka Prefecture since the end of November last year. These businesses have been hit hard, which may be a reason why Yoshimura wants to lift the state of emergency early if possible.

At a meeting of the prefectural government’s task force held Monday, it was decided to ask the central government to lift the declaration if Osaka Prefecture achieves for seven consecutive days either a weekly average of 300 or fewer new daily infections, or a below-60% occupancy rate for beds for critically ill patients.

In Fukuoka Prefecture, the daily number of newly infected patients reached a record 411 on Jan. 16, and some of the people infected during this period have become severely ill, putting pressure on the hospital bed situation.

In Aichi Prefecture, the weekly average number of hospitalized patients has remained high at about 730. Aichi Gov. Hideaki Omura said at a press conference Tuesday: “The situation is very severe. The extension is unavoidable.”