Tokyo reported its highest number of COVID cases for the entire pandemic on Thursday, driven by the spread of more infectious variants just as Japan started reopening to tourists.
The city recorded 31,878 new daily infections, eclipsing the previous record of 21,562 cases set on Feb. 2. The numbers show a COVID resurgence has taken hold in the Japanese capital before the summer holidays, when travel and activity levels typically soar.
The rising case counts are forcing political and health care leaders to reconsider what steps, if any, are needed to contain the outbreak. The same conundrum is facing countries across the globe, as the arrival of more infectious omicron subvariants has led to higher infection rates even as testing in most areas is on the decline.
Many countries that focused on eliminating the virus early in the pandemic are finding it difficult to reimpose strict mitigation measures in response to rising rates after they embraced widespread vaccination and began living with it within the past year.
While central government officials in Japan have denied the need for fresh restrictions on business activity, people’s movement or border controls, the recent surge in cases may add pressure to slow the pace of reopening to tourists. The government said it will keep a close eye on serious infections and deaths.
Meanwhile, an expert panel providing guidance for Tokyo’s pandemic response raised its medical system alert to the highest level on its four-tier scale, Gov. Yuriko Koike said.
While Tokyo’s hospital occupancy rate more than doubled to 44.2% as of Thursday, from about 19% at the start of the month, deaths remain rare.
Experts on the government’s expert panel are expecting infections to peak this week, said Shinya Tsuzuki, medical industry equity analyst at Mizuho Securities Co. That makes the number of new cases next week, showing whether or not the outbreak is ebbing, even more important, he said.
The number of people with severe infections remains relatively low, so the market isn’t expecting the government to reimpose strict prevention measures or declare a state of emergency, he said.
Slow uptake of booster shots among younger residents may be allowing the pathogen to spread more widely in schools and social gathering areas for young adults.
More than 60% of all residents in the prefecture have received a third shot, according to data from the Bureau of Social Welfare and Public Health. The booster rate for those aged 12-19 is just 33.6%, while 45.8% of people in their 20s have received a third shot, the government data show.