Photo/Illutration Documents presented at an Oct. 28 meeting of the health ministry's advisory panel monitoring novel coronavirus infections (Akiyoshi Abe)

A panel of experts advising the health ministry warned that the country’s novel coronavirus infections have been “slightly increasing” since the start of October with upticks continuing in Tokyo, Hokkaido and elsewhere.

The panel, which met on Oct. 28, adopted a grimmer view about the number of nationwide infections, changing its assessment from “unchanged or slightly increasing” given at its previous meeting on Oct. 22.

It said the number of new cases in the greater Tokyo metropolitan area remains high and infections are on the increase in Hokkaido, where cluster infections have occurred in an entertainment district, as well as Aomori, Miyagi, Gunma, Saitama and Okinawa prefectures.

The panel’s latest analysis shows 3.21 new cases per 100,000 people were confirmed over the week through Oct. 26, up from the 2.84 cases reported over the week until Oct. 12.

The number of new infections that can spread from just one infected person, called the effective reproduction number, was high in some prefectures such as Osaka, Hokkaido, Okinawa, and the estimated nationwide figure stood at 1.02 as of Oct. 8, according to the analysis. The number above one means infections are spreading.

“We didn’t bring up the impact of the ‘Go To Travel’ program on the rise in cases at the meeting,” said Takaji Wakita, who chairs the panel, after the Oct. 28 meeting. “But movement of people could help increase infections, so we need to closely monitor it.”

He also pointed out that cluster infections have occurred at a variety of locations, including entertainment districts in cities outside urban areas, group meals, and workplaces as well as among non-Japanese communities.

“Necessary information should be provided in foreign languages so that foreigners can consult or visit medical institutions,” said Wakita, who is also the head of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases.

The panel also announced the same day the percentage of people who became seriously ill after they were confirmed infected with the virus between June and August, when a second wave of infections hit the country.

The figure was 8.5 percent for patients in their 60s or older, compared with 0.3 percent for those in their 50s or younger. The percentage of patients who died was 5.7 percent among those aged 60 or older and 0.06 percent for those aged 59 or younger.

The data show elderly people and those with pre-existing conditions tend to develop severe symptoms of COVID-19.

The panel classified patients who were hospitalized in intensive care units, placed on ventilators or died after contracting the virus as “serious cases.”

It also listed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), chronic kidney disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases and obesity as underlying conditions that are likely to raise the severity of COVID-19 symptoms.

(This article was written by Shuichi Doi and Naoyuki Himeno.)