Tokyo reports 3,177 new COVID-19 cases — a single-day high
Governor urges young people to get vaccinated, follow public health measures
Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike on Wednesday urged younger people to co-operate with measures to bring down the high number of infections and get vaccinated, saying their activities are key to slowing the surge during the Olympics.
On Wednesday, the Japanese capital reported a record high of 3,177 cases, topping 3,000 for the first time since the pandemic began.
"Please make sure to avoid nonessential outings and observe basic anti-infection measures, and I would like younger people to get vaccinated," Koike said, adding that slowing activity among young people "holds the key" to slowing infection.
Vaccination Minister Taro Kono told The Associated Press that Japan is "overshooting" its goal of one million shots a day, so "speed doesn't matter anymore."
Japan is averaging about 10 million shots a week after a late start.
"Even if we slow down a little bit, I'm OK. Rather we need to reach out to the younger people, so that they would feel that it's necessary for them to get vaccinated," Kono said, speaking in English during an interview in his office.
Health experts have noted that cases among younger, unvaccinated people are rising sharply. While about two-thirds of Wednesday's cases were people in their 30s or below, people in their 50s now dominate Tokyo's nearly 3,000 hospitalized patients and are gradually filling up available beds.
Authorities reportedly plan to ask medical institutions to increase their capacity to about 6,000.
Dr. Ryuji Wakita, director general of the National Institute of Infections Diseases and head of a government advisory board, said vaccination progress has been limited mostly to elderly people, while younger people are still largely unprotected.
As of Tuesday, 25.5 per cent of the Japanese population has been fully vaccinated. The percentage of the elderly who are fully vaccinated is 68.2 per cent, or 36 million people.
Emergency measures should be firmly exercised, he said, to prevent the further spread of the virus during the Olympics and the summer vacation season. Wakita acknowledged that the rise of serious cases is modest compared to the sharp increase of daily cases, but even so, the ongoing surge could cause younger and unvaccinated patients who overflow from hospitals to develop serious cases while being left at home and untreated. "
The younger generations are largely unvaccinated, and that's why those in their 40s and 50s are increasingly getting infected and being hospitalized," he said. "The level of vaccinations in Japan has not reached a state where we can easily permit the number of infections to rise."
Vaccination prospects for the younger have improved, and some can get their shots organized by workplaces and colleges, while others still wait based on seniority. But there are also concerns over hesitancy among the young, with surveys showing many of them having doubts, in part due to fake rumours about side-effects.
State of emergency may be expanded
Tokyo is under its fourth state of emergency, which is to continue through the Olympics, but it mainly focuses on requiring establishments to stop serving alcohol and shorten their hours. Measures for the public are only requests and they are increasingly ignored.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has also urged people to avoid nonessential outings but says there is no need to consider a suspension of the Games, which are held with no fans in Tokyo and three neighbouring prefectures — Chiba, Kanagawa and Saitama.
Governors of the three areas, alarmed by Tokyo's surging cases, said on Wednesday they plan to jointly ask Suga to place their prefectures under the state of emergency too.
Countrywide, Japan reported 5,020 cases in the last 24 hours for a total of 870,445 and 15,129 confirmed deaths. Japan has kept its cases and deaths lower than many other countries. Its seven-day rolling average of cases is about 3.57 per 100,000 people, compared to 2.76 in India, 17.3 in the United States and 53.1 in Britain, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
With files from Reuters