Tokyo raises the COVID-19 alarm to the highest as the medical crisis looms

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s capital Tokyo, facing acute tensions on its medical system from the COVID-19 pandemic, raised its alert level to the highest of four stages on Thursday as the number of new cases peaked to a daily record of 822.

A health official said it had become difficult to balance care for COVID-19 patients with regular care, as the hospital beds were full, and for the first time a “red” alert for medical readiness had been assigned.

“We fear serious dysfunction of the medical system within two weeks, on December 31, if the number of new daily infections continues to grow at the current rate,” Masataka Inokuchi, vice president of the Tokyo Medical Association, told a press conference attended by Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike.

The metropolitan government in the city of 14 million people said the number of new coronavirus cases was 822 on Thursday, surpassing the previous record of 678 set a day earlier.

Tokyo has issued a special coronavirus warning for the Christmas and New Year period to raise public awareness, Koike said.

“We need to make this holiday a special time to stop the spread of the infections.”

The Tokyo government has asked medical institutions in the capital to increase the number of hospital beds reserved for COVID-19 patients to 4,000 from the current 3,000, she said.

A month ago, Tokyo raised its coronavirus warning of new infections – a separate category – to the highest level. It had kept its vigilance for medical readiness at the second highest level at the time, indicating that hospital capacity needs to be increased, but a notch below critical conditions.

Japan has reported a total of 190,935 infections and 2,791 deaths from the respiratory disease since the outbreak began early this year, according to public broadcaster NHK.

(Reported by Chang-Ran Kim and Kiyoshi Takenaka; adapted by Lincoln Feast and Mark Heinrich)