THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
November 12, 2020 at 17:59 JST
Toshio Nakagawa, president of the Japan Medical Association, holds a news conference on Nov. 5. (Haruna Ishikawa)
Health experts warned that a third wave of COVID-19 cases is hitting Japan while government officials continued to try to balance economic activities with stricter protocols against the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Daily records for new infections were broken on Nov. 11 in Osaka, Saitama, Hyogo, Ibaraki, Niigata, Yamanashi and Iwate prefectures.
Overall, 1,547 new COVID-19 cases were reported on that day, the fourth highest daily total for the nation since the pandemic began.
“I believe we must think about a third wave,” Toshio Nakagawa, president of the Japan Medical Association, said at a news conference on Nov. 11.
He said the situation in Tokyo was particularly serious, with the capital reporting 317 new cases on Nov. 11, the first time since August that the single-day figure exceeded 300.
An advisory panel to the health ministry on Nov. 11 also expressed concerns about the surge in new cases, citing infection clusters in entertainment districts, workplaces and foreign communities in various locations.
The panel called for additional measures to deal with infection clusters to prevent medical facilities from being overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients, and to remind the public to wear face masks and wash their hands to block the spread of the contagion.
Takaji Wakita, the head of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, who chairs the advisory panel, was asked if the government’s Go To Travel campaign to promote tourism was exacerbating the health crisis.
“While attention has focused on the Go To program, the main cause for pushing up infections is overall economic and social activities,” Wakita said.
Nakagawa, however, suggested that Hokkaido be removed from the tourism program if there are signs of a sharp increase in cases in the main northern island.
Government sources said restrictions on attendance at large events will remain in place until the end of February. Those limits were scheduled to be eased in December.
Under the prolonged restrictions, only half of the seats can be filled for sporting events at venues with a capacity in excess of 10,000. For venues with capacity under 10,000, up to 5,000 people can attend.
The government had been gradually relaxing the crowd restrictions after lifting the state of emergency for the pandemic in May. But the recent resurgence of infections has ended that trend for large venues, the sources said.
However, restrictions for movie theaters will likely be lifted.
The government had asked that only half of the seats be filled at theaters that sell popcorn. But such theaters will be allowed to fill all seats because customers who consume popcorn are less likely to engage in conversation during the movies, the sources said.
A study showed that airborne droplets only spread in a limited area when people are eating and not talking.
SENSE OF CRISIS UP NORTH
The infection clusters in Hokkaido and the northern prefecture of Aomori are hampering public services and threatening already overloaded medical care systems.
The sense of unease within the city government of Sapporo, the Hokkaido capital, was exacerbated by reports of clusters emerging in medical facilities that provide advanced levels of care.
On Nov. 10, Sapporo reported four clusters, including one at the National Hospital Organization Hokkaido Medical Center.
Thorough measures to prevent a spread of infections were believed to have been in place at the medical center, but nine nurses and three patients there have been confirmed with COVID-19.
Infection clusters have also hit the Susukino entertainment district in Sapporo, a retirement home, a university club and a trading company.
A total of eight workers at three post offices in Sapporo were also confirmed infected, leading to a temporary halt in operations at those facilities.
Aomori Prefecture had confirmed only 36 COVID-19 cases in total as of the end of September. But over the next month, the number increased sevenfold to 275.
One catalyst was an infection cluster originating in a restaurant and bar in Hirosaki. After a doctor who visited the establishment was confirmed infected on Oct. 12, infections spread to family members and colleagues as well as others in the city. About 180 cases have been linked to the restaurant and bar.
The infections have put a heavy burden on hospitals in the area. About 30 percent of the 201 hospital beds in Aomori Prefecture capable of caring for those with COVID-19 were filled.
The figure exceeded the 25-percent benchmark used by the central government’s panel of experts to classify an area as being at the second highest alert level for the novel coronavirus.
(This article was compiled from reports by Kyosuke Yamamoto, Akiyoshi Abe, Naoyuki Himeno, Ryo Aibara, Ayako Nakada, Toru Saito, Tatsuya Harada and Yoshinori Hayashi.)
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