Photo/Illutration Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki on April 7 (Shogo Mitsuzumi)

Novel coronavirus infections have reached record levels in nine prefectures, an expert panel said, but Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said there is currently no need to reimpose COVID-19 pre-emergency measures.

The panel, which advises the health ministry, said at its meeting on April 13 that the largest surges have occurred mainly in less-populated areas of eastern Japan, Shikoku and Kyushu.

The increase rates in those prefectures have widened from those seen in the three major urban areas of Tokyo, Osaka and Aichi prefectures, the panel said.

The daily average of new infections in the week until April 12 hit record highs in Iwate, Akita, Fukushima, Niigata, Nagano, Ehime, Oita, Miyazaki and Kagoshima prefectures.

The average was 1.5 times higher than the number for the previous week in Iwate Prefecture, while it was 1.36 times more in Miyazaki Prefecture, 1.33 times more in Nagasaki Prefecture, and 1.31 times more in Wakayama Prefecture.

Okinawa Prefecture, where new COVID-19 cases have been increasing since the end of March, saw its daily average rise 1.22 times.

“We have to acknowledge that our prefecture has entered the seventh wave of infections,” Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki told a news conference on April 7. “We have to consider introducing stronger anti-virus measures, including a request for the government to impose pre-emergency measures.”

The daily average was up 1.01 times from the previous week in Tokyo, 1.12 times in Osaka Prefecture, and 1.05 times in Aichi Prefecture.

In Osaka and Aichi prefectures, the figure inched upward after remaining flat.

“The increase rate in large urban areas is slow, but it is rapid in regional towns and cities, so we need to pay attention,” Takaji Wakita, the panel chair who heads the National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NIID), said at a news conference.

Many people in densely populated areas contracted the virus during the sixth wave and developed immunity, while fewer people became immune to the virus in less populated areas, he said.

The Cabinet Secretariat said the occupancy rate of hospital beds for COVID-19 patients as of April 12 was 46 percent in Okinawa Prefecture, 34 percent in Kagoshima Prefecture and 27 percent in Hiroshima Prefecture.

In some regions, the occupancy rate has been rising, but in other regions, it is almost unchanged, it said.

“The number of new infection cases overall has been on the increase, but the occupancy rate of hospital beds remains at a low level,” Kishida said at an Upper House plenary session on April 13. “At this moment, no prefectural government has requested pre-emergency measures. I don’t think pre-emergency measures are immediately needed in the current situation.”

The Asahi Shimbun