TOKYO - Tokyo reported 5,042 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, its most since the pandemic began as infections surge in the Japanese capital hosting the Olympics.
Since mid July, Tokyo has been under state of emergency, and four new areas of the country have been added since then. But the measures, mainly limited opening hours and a ban on alcohol for restaurants and bars, are increasingly ignored by the public, which is tired of restrictions.
'We need to tackle the situation now that we have a stronger sense of urgency, Prime Minister Yosihide Suga told reporters, referring to Tokyo exceeding 5,000 new daily cases for the first time. The infections are increasing at a rate we have never experienced before.
Suga, who has been criticized for insisting on hosting the Olympics despite coronavirus's surge, says there is no evidence linking the increase in cases to the July 23 -- August 8 Games. He urged people to stay at home during summer vacation and stick to the emergency requests.
The new cases reported total to 236,138 brought it to Tokyo. The whole country of the US registered more than 14,000 new cases on Wednesday, for a total of 970,460.
Alarmed by the rapid spread of the situation, some experts have called for the state of emergency to be expanded nationwide.
Instead, Suga announced a milder version of the emergency measures in eight prefectures, beginning on Thursday, including Kumamoto in the east and Fukushima in the south. The less stringent measures allow specific heads to target local towns but do not allow them to order business closures.
Suga also pledged to protect the virus by carrying out vaccinations firmly.
Experts say people are not cooperating because many feel less of a sense of urgency about the pandemic while Olympics are going ahead and the government repeats of the same requests for people to stay at home.
Experts on a Tokyo metropolitan government panel cautioned that infections caused by the more contagious delta variant have become 'explosive' and could exceed 10,000 cases a day in two weeks.
Measures targeting business owners begin with requests and increase to orders, and violators can be fined, though this rarely happens. Those who comply can receive compensation, but thousands of restaurants still stay open after the approved 8 p.m. closing time. Measures for the general public include nonessential requests, including staying at home, wearing a mask outside and avoiding voluntary trips.
Japan has managed to keep its cases and deaths lower than much of the world, but testing is still insufficient and Tokyo's positivity rate stands at 20%, indicating widespread infections. Japan has 8.9 confirmed cases per 100,000, compared to 8.5 in Vietnam and 28.4 in the United States.
Near 17,000 patients with special symptoms are currently isolating at home — more than a tenfold increase from a month ago — and more than 10,000 others are waiting in hospitals for beds or lodgings.
As hospital beds fill, Suga's government has introduced this week a new policy in which coronavirus patients with mild symptoms will isolate at home instead of in hospitals, an attempt to save hospital beds almost exclusively for serious ill patients
Opposition lawmakers criticised Suga for not increasing hospital capacity sufficiently despite warnings about Delta variant. Coronavirus treatment in Japan is limited to public and university hospitals that have adequate facilities and expertise.
Dr. Masataka Inokuchi, the Vice Chair of the Tokyo Medical Association, said he hopes to establish a system that allows patients to isolate safely at home. 'This system, however, will collapse if the number of patients at home keeps increasing, he said.