Photo/Illutration Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike attends a meeting with infectious disease experts on Nov. 19. (Chiaki Ogiwara)

Tokyo declared a highest-level 4 alert over the COVID-19 crisis on Nov. 19 and urged residents to heighten vigilance as the surge in infections continues to set records in the capital.

However, unlike the second wave of infections this summer, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike at a news conference on Nov. 19 did not ask people to refrain from traveling outside of the capital unless absolutely necessary or request restaurants and karaoke parlors serving alcohol to reduce their operating hours.

Tokyo officials are concerned about the impact on economic activities from such a request, and have assessed that hospitals in the capital still have room to handle more COVID-19 patients, according to sources.

Tokyo reported a daily record 493 new cases on Nov. 18, after the seven-day moving average of newly confirmed infections exceeded 300 since Nov. 15.

On Nov. 19, 534 new infections were confirmed in the capital, setting a new high for the second straight day.

The decision to raise the alert level came after a meeting between metropolitan officials and experts on infectious diseases in the afternoon.

At the meeting, Koike underlined the need for people to take thorough precautionary measures against the virus, particularly with the season of year-end and New Year’s parties approaching.

“I urge people to limit the number of attendees and the duration of the parties to avoid airborne droplets carrying the virus,” she said. “The parties should be held at places with sufficient ventilation, and attendees should maintain proper distance and avoid sitting across from each other.”

Touching on the spike in new cases involving senior citizens, Koike called on elderly people and those with pre-existing conditions to refrain from eating in groups due to their heightened risk of developing serious symptoms.

She also asked relatives living with people in those risk groups to avoid gatherings as much as possible as a precaution.

During her appearance on a TV news program the previous day, Koike said the metropolitan government needs to envisage a daily count of 1,000 new cases and take appropriate countermeasures. 

The metropolitan government had asked businesses to curtail operations during the second wave of new infections this summer. The alert level was set to 4 on July 15 and was lowered to 3 on Sept. 10.

The daily counts had not dropped noticeably in Tokyo and plateaued more or less through October.

But the capital logged 317 new infections on Nov. 11, the first time for the count to exceed the 300 threshold since Aug. 20, when 339 new patients were reported.

The daily number of new cases had since hovered between 250 and 400, except for Nov. 16, when 180 new cases were confirmed.

Koike told reporters on the evening of Nov. 18 that she expects further increases in new cases in the coming weeks.

“Our basic approach is containing the number of serious cases,” she said, referring to COVID-19 patients requiring ventilators or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) lung bypass machines.