Great Britain

Tokyo’s surge in Covid cases raises fears of health system collapse

A record rise in daily coronavirus infection numbers in Tokyo just several days into the Olympic games has raised fresh concerns over the abilities of the city’s health system to be able to cope.

The latest figures showed a rise to 2,848 of daily recorded infections. The previouys high was 2,520 back in January, according to data from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.

The spike in numbers is likely to put even greater pressure on the city’s already stretched healthcare system, a state of affairs that is rattling city officials.

“We are working to secure hospital beds,” Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike said. “I am concerned about the gradual increase in the number of severe cases.”

With the exception of Tokyo and three other prefectures, most of the country’s prefectures have a shortfall of ICU beds—including Saitama Prefecture, which borders Tokyo, and has been one the areas affected by today’s increase in infections.

What’s worrying officials in Tokyo is that Japan has five ICU beds per 100,000 people, which is less than that of other developed countries, such as the US, which as 35 beds per 100,000, and Germany with 30, Nikkei Asia in April.

Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga called a meeting on Tuesday in response to the figures, with five ministers related to public welfare, including from the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare and the Ministry for Economic Revitalization.

But the sudden spike in daily infection numbers, which exceeds the previous record by more than 300 infections, is not confined to Tokyo; surrounding areas, such as Chiba, Saitama, and Kanagawa prefectures, too, are witnessing an increase in infections.

Today’s figures are based on 9,300 average daily tests over the previous three days. Broken down by age, the numbers show: 951 people are in their 20s; 620 are in their 30s; 466 are in their 40s; 301 are in their 50s; and 78 are aged 65 or older, the latter being at the greatest risk of serious illness.

In addition, two new Covid-19-related deaths were announced, and the number of seriously ill had increased by four, from 78 to 82, domestic broadcaster TBS said.

There could be a political fallout as well. The Prime Minister, in an interview with a magazine on July 26, had said there was no concern that a spread of infection would occur at the Olympic Games.

The prime minister reaffirmed his confidence in the success of the Games, saying the country’s vaccination programme was proceeding smoothly. And analysts note that, while Japan’s vaccine roll out started slowly at the beginning of the year, it was ramped up significantly in the run up to the Games. But the latest figures have given cause for concern.

Critics have argued that holding the Games would automatically lead to increased infection rates.

Tokyo’s record breaking spike in infections comes just days after a four-day weekend in Japan, including Marine Day on July 22, and the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Games. With summer temperatures rising, many in the city sought refuge in outdoor activities, including trips to beach to enjoy Marine Day.

It remains to be seen if those activities were in part responsible for the spike, whether the Delta virus variant that is spreading in Japan was to blame, whether the opening of the Games in Tokyo played a role, or whether it was a combination of all of them.

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