Photo/Illutration Staff at a Saitama hospital treat patients admitted with COVID-19. (Yoshinori Hayashi)

Although the sixth wave of novel coronavirus infections has apparently peaked out, deaths among elderly COVID-19 patients could continue to increase at a disturbing rate.

“We believe the peak for new cases around the nation was reached sometime in early February,” Takaji Wakita, chairman of the advisory board of experts to the health ministry, said at a meeting on Feb. 16.

The number of daily new cases per 100,000 people over the most recent week was 464.39, the first decline in about two and a half months, the panel reported.

But another finding reported at the meeting was that the daily average of deaths related to COVID-19 for the week ending Feb. 15 had reached a record 163.

New cases continued to increase among those 80 and older, and panel members expressed concerns that the fatality figure will keep rising over the next few weeks.

Although the number of new cases among younger people declined, the number per 100,000 individuals 80 and older increased from 201.1 to 209.9 in the most recent week.

A report from Okinawa Prefecture, where the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus spread ahead of other regions, showed that larger percentages of senior citizens had been hospitalized.

An analysis of about 33,000 COVID-19 patients infected in January found that while less than 5 percent of those under 59 were hospitalized, the ratio approached 40 percent for those 80 and older.

Of the 1,271 patients who were hospitalized, 283, the largest age group, were in their 80s.

A report from Osaka Prefecture showed a similar trend. The ratio of those 70 and older who developed serious symptoms was 65 percent in the sixth wave, much higher than the 44 percent in the fourth wave and 18 percent in the fifth wave.

Calculations by The Asahi Shimbun found that the daily average of fatalities around the nation over a one-week period had, on Feb. 4, exceeded the peak of 65 during the fifth wave. On Feb. 9, the average topped the peak of 114 during the fourth wave.

The daily number of fatalities exceeded 200 on both Feb. 15 and 16.

For the four-week period until Feb. 8, about 80 percent of the deaths were among COVID-19 patients 70 or older.

Another report presented at the Feb. 16 meeting found that the fatality rate among those infected with the Omicron variant increased the higher the age of the patient.

Hiroshi Nishiura, a professor of theoretical epidemiology at Kyoto University, studied the number of new cases and deaths for the one-week period from Jan. 29.

He estimated that while the fatality rate was 0.03 percent for patients between 40 and 59, the figure rose to 0.32 percent for those in their 60s, 0.94 percent for those in their 70s and 3.48 percent for those 80 and older.

Based on those figures, an estimated 138 patients between 40 and 59 could die between December and April 20, as well as 326 in their 60s, 778 in their 70s, and 3,097 in their 80s and older.

One caveat about those figures is that no consideration was given to the spread of COVID-19 booster shots.

(This article was written by Hiroshi Ishizuka, Kai Ichino and Kayoko Geji.)