Photo/Illutration Workers and students return to their homes in Kita-Kyushu on the evening of May 28. (Motoki Nagasawa)

A possible second wave of COVID-19 infections has hit the city of Kita-Kyushu, but the central government appears reluctant to set numerical benchmarks on whether to reintroduce a state of emergency for the area.

The Kita-Kyushu city government on May 28 announced 21 new infection cases, including nine medical care workers at the Moji Medical Center, bringing the total to 43 for the six days since May 23.

The infection routes have not been traced in 21 of those cases.

The city had reported no new infections from April 30 to May 22.

After the state of emergency over the novel coronavirus was lifted for the entire country on May 25, Kita-Kyushu reopened its public facilities.

But the city has closed them down again in light of the recent COVID-19 infections.

“If this trend continues, we will undoubtedly be hit by a large second wave,” Kita-Kyushu Mayor Kenji Kitahashi said on May 28.

The same day, Governor Hiroshi Ogawa of Fukuoka Prefecture, where Kita-Kyushu is located, urged residents to refrain from visiting the city as much as possible.

“I want Fukuoka residents to act cautiously based on the infection situation at their destinations,” Ogawa told reporters. “We absolutely have to stop a second wave.”

A high-ranking prefectural government official said it was difficult to pinpoint the cause of the sudden resurgence in infections.

“There is the possibility that infections are already spreading in the community,” the official said.

Fukuoka is not the only prefecture where cluster infections appear to be occurring.

Four staff members and five patients at Musashino Central Hospital in Koganei, western Tokyo, were confirmed infected by the novel coronavirus on May 28.

Ten other patients at the hospital developed fevers and other symptoms and were awaiting the results of their polymerase chain reaction tests to confirm if they have also been infected.

Yasutoshi Nishimura, the state minister of economic revitalization who is also overseeing the central government’s response to the coronavirus epidemic, indicated that stricter guidelines would be used in comparison to early April when the state of emergency was first declared.

However, the central government has provided no indication on how the April benchmarks would be changed for a possible second declaration.

Nishimura indicated that he wanted to leave some leeway for making a political decision regarding a second state of emergency instead of setting clear benchmarks that could lead to an automatic response and take any decision out of the hands of government officials.

The current guidelines for dealing with the coronavirus pandemic only call for making a “comprehensive decision” based on the same factors employed in early April.

At that time, the benchmarks employed were a cumulative ratio of more than five newly infected people per 100,000 over the latest week; about half or more of the cases having untraceable infection routes; and the doubling of the number of new infections occurring under 10 days.

Shigeru Omi, who chairs the government advisory panel on such matters as declaring or lifting states of emergency, said that experts on infectious diseases would prefer the setting of clear numerical benchmarks.

But Omi said no decision has yet been made on the issue despite numerous discussions between the health experts and government officials.

He added that other factors, such as antigen testing, research into treating symptoms of COVID-19 and lifestyle changes among the public, would also have to be observed before coming up with clear benchmarks.

(Ayako Nakada contributed to this article.)