Japan's daily coronavirus count tops 18,000

NHK -- Jan 13
The Japanese government is revising rules to deal with the rapid spread of the Omicron variant. More than 18,000 coronavirus infections were confirmed on Thursday.

The daily tally is more than four times as high as that of a week ago. A total of 125 people across Japan are in serious condition, up 25 from Wednesday.

Tokyo reported more than 3,000 new cases. The figure increased by about 1,000 for two days in a row.

Health experts monitoring the situation say the daily tally in the capital is expected to exceed 10,000 by the end of January.

Disease Control and Prevention Center Director Ohmagari Norio said, "A rapid spread of infections would raise the risk of all Tokyo residents, including medical workers and essential workers, contracting the virus or coming in close contact with an infected person. That could force us to suspend our social activities."

Tokyo Governor Koike Yuriko plans to ask the central government to give Tokyo authority to take stricter anti-virus measures if its medical system becomes strained.

She said, "We will consider asking the government to apply intensive anti-infection measures if 20 percent of hospital beds are occupied. If the rate rises to 50 percent, we will consider asking the government to declare a state of emergency."

Experts are calling on the government to change the rules so people who have been in close contact with an infected person can resume their activities sooner.

Currently they are asked to isolate for 14 days. The experts say the period should be shortened to 10 days, and even shorter for pressing cases such as medical workers.

An oral COVID-19 drug developed by US pharmaceutical firm Merck was approved in Japan last month. It is now available at clinics and pharmacies across the country. It is administered to patients with mild symptoms isolating at home based on a doctor's prescription.

The government is speeding up its rollout of booster shots, shortening the necessary interval between the second and third shots. Health ministry officials are also preparing to approve the use of the Pfizer vaccine for children aged 5 to 11. Currently, children below 12 are not eligible for inoculation.