New Covid cases in Japan set record

New Covid cases in Japan set record

PM rules out return to restrictions but urges increased caution as BA.5 spreads quickly

People walk along a street filled with izakaya pubs in Tokyo on July 6. (Reuters Photo)
People walk along a street filled with izakaya pubs in Tokyo on July 6. (Reuters Photo)

TOKYO: New daily Covid-19 infections in Japan hit a record high of 110,600, authorities said on Saturday, as the country enters a seventh wave spurred by the highly transmissible BA.5 Omicron subvariant.

The previous record on Feb 5 this year was 104,169 cases, after which numbers began to drop significantly. However, they have been rising again sharply since mid-June, when the daily figure was just under 14,000.

While the vast majority of cases are mild and do not require hospital treatment, the government is expanding the scope of people who can receive fourth Covid-19 vaccine shots. All medical personnel and workers at elderly care facilities will now be eligible, it said.

Deaths and severe illness have remained at relatively low levels so far in the current wave.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told a news conference on Thursday that he wasn’t planning any return to restrictions on people’s movements, nor thinking of strengthening border controls at that point.

The premier — fresh from a July 10 upper house election victory — has previously won public support for his cautious stance on Covid, including encouraging mask-wearing and maintaining border restrictions long after other developed countries had opened up.

He may be more reluctant to seek limits on people’s movements now, with the economy stuttering and the yen in a slump not seen for decades.

Japan has rolled out three vaccination shots for the bulk of its population, but most of those eligible for a fourth shot have yet to get one.

In Tokyo, where 18,919 new cases were confirmed on Saturday, the metropolitan government raised the capital’s Covid alert to the highest of four levels.

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