Health experts urged caution, but not anti-virus measures, after 37 prefectures reported week-on-week increases in new COVID-19 cases, including Japan’s most populated areas.
Overall, the number of new cases in Japan for the week through March 29 was 1.04 times that of the preceding week. It was the first nationwide rise in seven weeks.
The increases were particularly sharp in Kagoshima Prefecture, which had 1.71 times more cases than in the previous week, Akita Prefecture, at 1.40 times, and Oita Prefecture, with 1.39 times.
For the nation’s three biggest metropolitan areas, Tokyo’s number was 1.05 times the figure for the preceding week, Osaka Prefecture’s was 1.08 times, and Aichi Prefecture’s was 1.15 times.
An expert panel advising the health ministry on COVID-19 countermeasures discussed the numbers on March 30.
“They could suggest signs that a rebound (in infections) is beginning to appear, but we can’t say that the infectious situation has entered a period of expansion,” said Takaji Wakita, chairman of the advisory panel and head of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases.
Shigeru Omi, chief of an expert panel advising the central government, noted that infections have resurged in overseas countries where people have received booster shots more widely than those in Japan.
At the March 30 session of the Lower House Committee on Health, Welfare and Labor, Omi warned that the more contagious BA.2 Omicron subvariant is rapidly replacing the original Omicron strain.
“We should take time and address concerns that the cases might bounce back,” Omi said in response to a question from Akira Nagatsuma, a lawmaker of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan.
One other expert suggested the upward trend in infections in Japan may have been amplified by the reduced number of reports made during the previous week, which included a holiday.
“We should be alert for trends in the coming days,” the expert said.
Japan on March 30 had 53,753 new COVID-19 cases, topping 50,000 for the first time since 53,568 cases were logged on March 17, when pre-emergency measures were set for 18 prefectures.
Those measures, including self-restrictions on business hours of bars and restaurants, were lifted on March 22.
According to a report on infections for the week to March 29, the ratio of new patients in their 20s increased. In addition, more infections were traced to bars and restaurants.
The trend is similar to those at the beginning of previous waves of infections.
At the same time, there were no prefectures with occupancy rates exceeding 50 percent for hospital beds for COVID-19 patients, according to the Cabinet Secretariat. The rates were 43 percent for Yamanashi Prefecture, 42 percent for Kanagawa Prefecture and 41 percent for Saitama Prefecture.
An official of the Japan Tourism Agency, also responding to Nagatsuma’s questions, said 23 prefectures with rising infection numbers are rolling out their own tourism discount programs subsidized by the government.
(This article was written by Yuki Edamatsu and Kayoko Geji.)