Tokyo’s COVID-19 infections hit a six-month high on Wednesday with the Olympic host city logging 1,832 new cases just two days before the Games open.
Tokyo is currently under its fourth state of emergency, which will last until Aug. 22. It covers the entire duration of the Olympics, which start Friday and end Aug. 8. Fans are banned from all venues in the Tokyo area, with limited audiences at few outlying sites.
“What we have worried about is now actually happening,” Japan Medical Association president Dr. Toshio Nakagawa said at a weekly news conference. “The surge in cases has been expected whether we have the Olympics or not, and we are afraid that there will be an explosive increase in cases regardless of the Olympics.”
Experts noted that cases among younger, unvaccinated people are sharply rising as Japan’s inoculation drive loses steam due to supply uncertainty. Many of the serious cases are those in their 50s.
Japan’s vaccinations began late and slowly, but the pace picked up dramatically in May for several weeks as the supply of imported jabs stabilized, and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s government desperately pushed to accelerate the drive before the Olympics.
About 23 per cent of Japanese are fully vaccinated, still far short of the levels believed to have any meaningful impact to reduce risks in the general population.
Japan has had about 848,000 infections and more than 15,000 deaths since the pandemic began, most of them since the latest wave in January.
Experts on Wednesday warned that Tokyo’s infections would only worsen in coming weeks. Dr. Norio Ohmagari, the Tokyo metropolitan government’s expert panel member, said that Tokyo’s average daily cases could hit about 2,600 in two weeks if they continue at the current pace.
COVID-19 in Tokyo
Olympic celebrations “may be more muted this year,” but the “message of hope is all the more important,” World Health Organization director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a speech in Japan.
Tedros, who addressed International Olympic Committee officials in Tokyo, spoke at length about COVID-19 and what world leaders need to do to end the global pandemic.
“The threat is not over anywhere until it’s over everywhere,” said the WHO chief, who again raised the alarm about a deeply unequal global vaccine rollout and rising COVID-19 case numbers. He urged world leaders to take “unprecedented action” and ramp up spending and vaccine production to make sure doses get to those in need.
Tedros said the Games shouldn’t be judged by COVID-19 case numbers in isolation, noting that zero-risk environments don’t exist. Instead, the Games should be evaluated on how they handle cases when they do arise and the steps taken to interrupt transmission.
“We’re not in a race against each other,” he said of the pandemic, after praising the efforts of the athletes who will compete in Tokyo. “We are in a race against the virus, a very dangerous virus.”
Suga’s government has been criticized for what some say is prioritizing the Olympics over the nation’s health.
Dr. Shigeru Omi, the government’s top medical adviser, last week urged authorities to step up virus measures and asked people to avoid out-of-town trips.
International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach, who is in Japan, expressed hope that fans would be allowed if the situation improves, but Omi said that would be impossible.
-From The Associated Press, Reuters and CBC News, last updated at 7:15 a.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
As of early Wednesday morning, more than 191.4 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to a database maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The reported global death toll stood at more than 4.1 million.
In Europe, visitors now need a special COVID-19 pass to ride up the Eiffel Tower or visit French museums or movie theatres. It’s the first step in a new campaign against what the government calls a “stratospheric” rise in delta variant infections.
People must be fully vaccinated, or have a negative virus test or proof that they recently recovered from an infection to get the pass. The requirement went into effect Wednesday at cultural and tourist sites. Lawmakers were starting debate on a bill that would expand the pass requirement to restaurants and many other areas of public life, and require all health workers to get vaccinated. It has prompted protests.
In the Asia-Pacific region, India reported its highest death toll in a month on Wednesday — at nearly 4,000 — after its richest state reconciled its death count with 3,509 previously unreported fatalities, the Health Ministry said.
In Africa, Pfizer says a South African firm will begin producing the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. The announcement Wednesday is important because it will be the first time that the vaccine will be produced in Africa.
The Biovac Institute based in Cape Town will manufacture the vaccine for distribution across Africa. Biovac will receive large batch ingredients for the vaccine from Europe and will blend the components, put them in vials and package them for distribution.
The production will begin in 2022, with a goal of reaching more than 100 million finished doses annually. Biovac’s production of doses will be distributed among the 54 countries of Africa. South Africa is relying upon the Pfizer vaccine in its mass inoculation drive.
Meanwhile, Tunisia’s health minister has been fired as the country struggles with a surge in COVID-19 cases and an overburdened health-care system.
In the Middle East, Israel reported 1,400 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday.
In the Americas, the delta variant is the cause of more than 80 per cent of new cases in the United States, but the authorized vaccines remain more than 90 per cent effective in preventing hospitalizations and deaths, top U.S. infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci told a Senate hearing.
-From The Associated Press, Reuters and CBC News, last updated at 9:15 a.m. ET