Japan on Wednesday reported over 9,500 new coronavirus infections, an all-time high, raising fresh questions about whether the ongoing Tokyo Olympics are worsening the country’s pandemic situation.
Over 3,000 of the country’s infections were reported in Tokyo, which has set a record high for two consecutive days. The numbers were compiled by NHK, Japan’s public broadcaster.
Tokyo is already under a state of emergency that some local commentators have criticized as ineffective. Many of the rules are voluntary. For example, restaurants have been asked to close early and not sell alcohol. Not all have complied.
The virus is also spreading outside the capital. The three prefectures surrounding Tokyo - Kanagawa, Chiba, and Saitama - have all seen infections spike. Local media report that officials are considering strengthening pandemic measures in those areas.
"The medical system has already started becoming more strained," Shigeru Omi, the Japanese government’s top COVID-19 adviser, told a parliamentary hearing, according to the Kyodo News agency.
Overall, Japan’s pandemic approach has been relatively successful. It has reported only 15,000 coronavirus deaths, much fewer than other countries its size. Even though Japan reported a record number of cases Wednesday, it reported a total of only eight deaths.
Whether it can continue its less forceful lockdown may depend on how bad the current outbreak gets and whether the tens of thousands of athletes, officials and media from around the world stay in their protective bubbles as planned.
So far, 169 Olympics-related individuals have tested positive for the virus. Olympics organizers stress the overall positivity rate is very low. They also say most Olympics-related visitors are vaccinated.
Japan is one of several Asian countries to initially contain the virus but lag other developed countries in vaccinations.
At least 37 percent of Japan’s population has received one coronavirus vaccination, according to government figures.