The Yomiuri Shimbun
3:41 pm, November 12, 2020

Japan advisory board seeks tougher measures as infections surge

The spread of the novel coronavirus has been intensifying from this month, according to an advisory board to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.

On Wednesday, newly confirmed cases of infection totaled 317 in Tokyo, 197 in Hokkaido, and a record 256 in Osaka. The board, which considers measures to combat the virus, is seeking tougher countermeasures.

According to the health ministry, the weekly number of new cases of infection per 100,000 people in Japan stood at 3.21 between Oct. 20 and 26. It rose to 3.89 in the week between Oct. 27 and Nov. 2, and soared to 5.29 in the week from Nov. 3.

The advisory board said Wednesday there were conspicuous increases in Hokkaido, Aichi, and Osaka prefectures. According to its analysis, the current surge stems from the fact that clusters are occurring in a diversifying range of places. In addition to nightlife areas, clusters are happening at locations including general venues for eating, workplaces, and communities of foreign residents.

The number of patients with serious symptoms — as defined by health ministry criteria — stood at 319 as of Nov. 4, showing an increase of 29 from the 290 cases identified as of Oct. 28. Compared with the pace of growth in new cases, however, the number of severe cases rose more slowly.

The percentage of occupied hospital beds, which indicates the number of inpatients with the virus as a percentage of the hospital beds reserved for such patients by Tokyo and other prefectural governments, stood at 13.4 % as of Nov. 4. This is a slight increase from 11.6 % as of Oct. 28, but not on a level that would soon result in a critical situation across the country.

In some areas, however, the number of beds used for treating novel coronavirus patients has risen to Stage 3, the second most serious level, including Tokyo at 26.1 %, Osaka at 26.6 %, and Okinawa at 43.1 %.

The board said it is necessary to reinforce relevant measures immediately, so as not to overburden regional health-care systems. Specifically, the board said the government should improve the infection screening system in nightlife districts, and the early detection of clusters at such venues as universities and workplaces.

Takaji Wakita, chair of the board and director general of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, said at a press conference: “The expanded spread of infections is believed to stem from the occurrence of various clusters, rather than [large-scale] events. It is necessary to analyze the primary factors behind individual clusters, which will lead to the implementation of countermeasures.”

On Wednesday, there were 1,547 newly confirmed cases of novel coronavirus infections across the country. In Tokyo, the number stood at 317, exceeding the threshold of 300 in a day for the first time in about three months. The daily total previously reached 339 on Aug. 20.

In Osaka, the number of new cases reached a record high of 256, topping the previous record of 255 on Aug. 7. In Hokkaido, it stood at 197, the second-largest number so far, after the 200 confirmed on Nov. 9.

Elsewhere in the nation, newly confirmed cases reached a record in such prefectures as Saitama at 116, and Hyogo at 70.

Toshio Nakagawa, president of the Japan Medical Association, suggested at a press conference on Wednesday that the current nationwide surge in newly confirmed cases “could be considered the third wave of infections [in Japan].” Nakagawa called on the government “to take action to prevent the spread of infections before it’s too late.”

Yasutoshi Nishimura, the economic revitalization minister who is also in charge of measures against the novel coronavirus, said at a press conference on Wednesday that “the current stage is not a situation in which a state of emergency should be declared.” But he emphasized “we will strengthen measures to prevent the current trend from leading to an explosive spread of infections.”