Japan’s health ministry panel warns of omicron sub-variant even as infection numbers slowly decrease

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry building in Tokyo

There has been a slow decline in the number of newly confirmed coronavirus infection cases across the nation, according to a health ministry panel of experts.

The number of severely ill patients was on the decrease as well, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry’s advisory panel said Tuesday.

In the 18 prefectures currently under quasi-emergency priority measures, 14 saw a decline in the number of new infections from the previous week.

Evaluating the COVID-19 infection situation, the advisory panel foresees that the number of infected people will remain high for a while.

The ministry said the nationwide number of new cases in the week through Monday was 0.87 times that of the previous week. The ratio fell mainly in heavily urban areas, at 0.83 in Tokyo and 0.78 in Osaka Prefecture. But, the ratio exceed 1.0 in Aomori, Ibaraki, Kagawa and Kumamoto prefectures. Among the 13 prefectures where priority measures ended on March 6, five exceeded the ratio of 1.0.

According to the Cabinet Secretariat, the occupancy rates of hospital beds for COVID-19 patients as of Monday in prefectures under priority measures was 62% in Osaka, 54% in Chiba and Kanagawa, 53% in Aichi and 50% in Hyogo. The advisory panel warns that the medical care system might remain in a tight situation for a while in areas where the number of new cases has stopped declining or has been increasing.

During the panel’s meeting, the National Institute of Infectious Diseases said the omicron variant of the coronavirus is being replaced by the more contagious omicron sub-variant BA.2. Estimates say the sub-variant could account for 70% of all infections with the novel coronavirus in early April and 97% in early May.

“As the BA.2 sub-variant continues to take over, it may lead to a resurgence in infections,” said Takaji Wakita, the institute’s director general who heads the advisory panel.