NAHA--With Okinawa reporting record COVID-19 cases and hospital beds for patients filling up, Governor Denny Tamaki declared a special state of emergency for his prefecture’s medical care system on July 21.

“These measures are intended to restrain the sudden surge in new COVID-19 cases and protect the lives and livelihood of Okinawa residents,” Tamaki said at a news conference. “I ask for everyone’s cooperation so we can work together to overcome the greatest crisis facing us.”

The measures announced by Tamaki cover not only medical institutions, but bars and restaurants.

He called on Okinawa residents with minor COVID-19 symptoms and those seeking tests to refrain from visiting emergency outpatient care facilities.

In addition, special measures will be implemented between July 22 and Aug. 14 for the southernmost prefecture.

Residents are being asked to refrain from unnecessary outings, to limit meals to four people in a group and for under two hours, and to consider changing plans for events where alcohol is to be served.

The measure regarding the group size and length of meals at bars and restaurants is being reinstituted for the first time in about a month and will cover all establishments, even those certified by the prefectural government as having implemented infection-prevention measures.

Tamaki indicated that even tougher restrictions on the activities of Okinawa residents might be requested depending on future infection trends.

Okinawa has long had the nation’s highest number of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents. Over the week ending July 20, the figure stood at 1,636.

As of July 21, 71.5 percent of hospital beds set aside for COVID-19 patients were in use. Hospital beds for other medical conditions are also close to full capacity.

There were 1,097 health care professionals at just those medical institutions dealing with COVID-19 who were unable to work as of July 21 because they were infected with the novel coronavirus or had come in close contact with someone who was.

One such core medical institution, Okinawa Chubu Hospital in Uruma, announced on July 21 that it was temporarily suspending emergency and outpatient care for COVID-19 patients with minor symptoms because of an increase in medical staff unable to report to work.

The suspension for emergency care will last from July 21 until Aug. 31, while outpatient care services will be suspended between July 25 and Aug. 31.

Okinawa reported a record 5,250 new COVID-19 cases on July 21, the second consecutive day the tally exceeded 5,000.