Japan's Covid-19 infections are surging at unprecedented speed

Japan’s Covid-19 infections are surging at unprecedented speed, with record highs in Tokyo – but PM insists it’s NOTHING to do with the Olympics!

  • Tokyo set new daily cases record of 4,166, while nationwide record of 14,200 set
  • Delta variant driving infections at pace ‘unseen in the past’, health chief warned
  • Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga insists there is no link to the Olympics
  • But top health expert warned that hosting Games had eroded public confidence 
  • Find out the latest Tokyo Olympic news including schedule, medal table and results right here

Japan’s Covid-19 infections are surging at an unprecedented speed driven by the Delta variant, overshadowing the Olympic Games. 

Tokyo reported a record 4,166 new cases on Wednesday, while a nationwide record of 14,200 new infections was set. New daily cases have doubled in the last two weeks, although deaths have halved.  

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga insists there is no link to the Olympics but he faces a growing backlash over concerns that hosting the Games sent out the wrong message to the public. 

The Delta variant was leading to a spread of infections ‘unseen in the past’, health minister Norihisa Tamura told parliament as he defended a new policy of asking patients with milder symptoms to isolate at home rather than going to hospital.

A couple wearing face masks pose for a selfie at the Shibuya Sky observatory with Japan National Stadium, a venue for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in the background on Wednesday

Tokyo reported a record 4,166 new cases on Wednesday, while a nationwide record of 14,200 new infections was set. New daily cases have doubled in the last two weeks, although deaths have halved

‘The pandemic has entered a new phase … Unless we have enough beds, we can’t bring people to hospital. We’re acting pre-emptively on this front,’ Tamura said.

But he signalled the chance of rolling back the policy, as the decision to ask some sick people to stay at home has drawn criticism from medical experts as putting lives at risk.

‘If things don’t turn out as we expect, we can roll back the policy,’ Tamura said, adding the policy shift was a move to deal with the unexpectedly fast spread of the new variant. 

PM Suga said on Monday only COVID-19 patients who were seriously ill and those at risk of becoming so would be hospitalised, while others should isolate at home, a shift in policy some fear may lead to an increase in deaths.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga (pictured at a press conference last week) insists there is no link to the Olympics but he faces a growing backlash

Officials in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party have agreed to seek to withdraw of the policy, the Jiji news agency reported on Wednesday, joining similar calls made by opposition lawmakers.

In response to criticism, Suga told reporters on Wednesday that the new hospitalisation policy was aimed at regions with a surge in COVID-19 cases, such as Tokyo, and not uniform throughout the country.

‘We’ll thoroughly explain our policy and seek public understanding,’ he said.

The outcry is another setback for Suga, who has seen support plunge over his handling of the pandemic ahead of general elections to be held this year.

Polls have shown many Japanese people opposed to holding the Olympics while the country lagged in efforts to contain the pandemic and vaccinate the population.

Suga and Olympics organisers have said there is no link between the July 23 to August 8 Games and the spike in cases.

But senior medical adviser Shigeru Omi told parliament that hosting the Games may have affected public sentiment and eroded the impact of government requests for people to stay home.

Imposing a nationwide state of emergency could be an option to deal with the pandemic, he said. States of emergency are already in place in several prefectures, as well as in Tokyo.

NHK reported that the government would expand quasi emergency steps to cover more regions of the country.

‘Political leaders are sending out messages to the public in earnest but probably not as strongly and consistently as hoped,’ Omi said. ‘We’re seeing COVID-19 clusters emerge more broadly including at schools and offices.’ 

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