The Tokyo Olympics have ended, but it’s still vacation season in Japan, and many people are ignoring government pleas to avoid travel and stay away from bars and restaurants even as cases of COVID-19 reach record levels.
Japan’s daily COVID-19 cases have topped 10,000 for more than a week, and the total has doubled in the past four months to exceed one million. Tokyo’s daily caseloads tripled during the Games that ended Sunday. And as hospitals fill up, nearly 20,000 infected people are isolating at home, over 10 times more than a month ago.
On Friday, Tokyo reported 5,773 new cases of COVID-19, surpassing the previous record of 5,042 set last week.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is pinning his hopes on vaccinations, which started slow because of logistical bungling, inefficiency and shortages but now are making good progress. But with only about 36 per cent of the population fully vaccinated, experts say the virus’s highly infectious delta variant is pulling ahead.
They are urging the government to put more teeth in its weak state of emergency. Japan has managed the COVID-19 pandemic better than many countries, without the kind of restrictive lockdown used in other nations, but some believe that may now be needed.
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More than 80 per cent of Japan’s elderly population of 36 million have completed their vaccinations since they started getting shots in mid-April. Suga says high inoculation rates among seniors have contributed to a significant decline in the number of elderly patients, serious cases and deaths, relieving strain on the medical system.
“This clearly shows the vaccine efficacy,” Suga said, pledging to accelerate vaccinations among younger people. “The most effective way to slow the infections and minimize serious symptoms would be to give everyone two shots as soon as possible.”
Suga aims to fully vaccinate 40 per cent of all those 12 years and older by the end of August, and to complete shots for all those who wish to do so by October or November.
But vaccines alone might not be enough, experts and officials say.
“With the ongoing surge accelerated by the delta strain, it is extremely difficult to deal with the infections just by promoting the vaccines,” Taro Kono, the minister in charge of vaccinations, told a recent online program.
He noted that young adults in their 20s and 30s account for about half of daily cases and urged them to stick to physical distancing, mask wearing and hand washing.
Suga, who has been criticized for forcing through the Games despite strong local opposition, has repeatedly said there is no evidence of the virus spreading from the Olympics, and organizing officials agree. While some 400 positive cases were reported inside the Olympic “bubble” from early July until the closing ceremony, that positivity rate is only a fraction of Tokyo’s overall, they say.
What’s happening in Canada
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What’s happening around the world
As of Friday morning, more than 205.4 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported around the world, according to the coronavirus tracker maintained by U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University. The reported global death toll stood at more than 4.3 million.
In the Americas, U.S. regulators say transplant recipients and others with severely weakened immune systems can get an extra dose of the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines to better protect them as the delta variant continues to surge.
The late-night announcement Thursday by the Food and Drug Administration — which made no mention of immune-compromised patients who received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine — applies to several million Americans who are especially vulnerable because of organ transplants, certain cancers or other disorders.
Several other countries, including France and Israel, have similar recommendations.
In the Middle East, Israeli Health Ministry experts recommended on Thursday dropping the minimum age of eligibility for a COVID-19 vaccine booster from 60 to 50. Israelis aged 60 and up began receiving the booster two weeks ago, and more than 700,000 seniors have received third shots.
In the Asia-Pacific region, South Korea on Friday signed a deal to buy 30 million doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for 2022, and the government urged people to cut holiday travel amid a worsening fourth wave of infections and a slow inoculation campaign.
Meanwhile, China reported declining numbers of new locally transmitted COVID-19 cases for the third consecutive day, extending tentative signs that the latest month-long outbreak may be waning.
In Europe, Russia reported a record high 815 coronavirus-related deaths in the last 24 hours on Friday, but Moscow’s mayor said hospitalizations from the disease in the capital had halved over the past six weeks.
Russia’s daily reported COVID-19 infections have gradually dipped from a peak in July that authorities blamed on the infectious delta variant and a slow vaccination rate. They stood at 22,277 on Friday, including 2,529 in Moscow.
In Africa, South Africa’s health minister said on Friday he would not recommend a relaxation of COVID-19 lockdown measures despite a downward trend in infections, saying the situation “remains precarious.”
He said the country of 60 million had fully vaccinated only around 4 million people as a wave of infections driven by the more infectious Delta variant strains over-burdened hospitals and health workers.