All national dailies reported extensively on yesterday’s meeting of the Health Ministry advisory board on the COVID-19 pandemic during which participants expressed alarm over the exponential increase in cases involving the Delta variant not only in Tokyo and other metropolitan areas but also in many rural prefectures, as well as the considerable strain being placed on local healthcare systems. The board members described the situation as being on the verge of a “public health disaster.”
According to the ministry panel, as of Tuesday the seven-day rolling average of daily cases had exceeded the GOJ-designated Stage 4, which warrants the declaration of a state of emergency, in 31 prefectures. On Wednesday, nine prefectures, mostly in western Japan, reported record numbers of new cases, including Osaka (1,409), Kyoto (341), Shiga (162), and Nara (138). Numbers of seriously ill patients are also rising steadily, with a record high of 197 reported in Tokyo yesterday, surpassing the previous record of 160 reported on Jan. 20 amid the third wave of infection. Hospital beds reserved for such patients are rapidly filling in Tokyo, Kanagawa, and Okinawa. Thousands of patients with moderate symptoms are being forced to isolate at home nationwide without medical support due to the shortage of hospital beds. The hospital bed occupancy rates were particularly high in Okinawa, Shiga, Fukushima, and Kanagawa.
In a related story, Sankei claimed that the GOJ may decide as early as next week to place certain rural prefectures under a state of emergency on account of the spike in infections and the increasing strain on healthcare capacities there. The daily projected that since such a declaration will probably last at least three or four weeks, the ongoing state of emergency for Tokyo, Osaka, Okinawa, and three other prefectures in Kanto will also be extended by several weeks beyond the present expiration date of Aug. 31. The paper observed that while Prime Minister Suga promised when he pronounced the current state of emergency in early July that it would be the “last one,” the public is increasingly frustrated and upset that the premier has failed to fulfill many of his pledges on combating the virus.
Asahi wrote that despite the skyrocketing caseloads, the number of people out and about has not declined substantially. Many people are also reportedly planning to travel during the Obon holidays. Some public health experts predict that the caseloads may not be as high as some fear later this week but that will be because the testing capacity will be limited due to labs and clinics being closed for the holiday rather than because the virus is being contained. As such, they are bracing for the caseloads to rise to all-time highs in many parts of the country in the latter half of next week.