Japanese officials reported over 6,000 daily coronavirus infections on Wednesday... a new record. The surging numbers are prompting concerns it could overwhelm the country's health care system.
The increase comes as the central government prepares to declare another state of emergency for Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures... Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba. The area now accounts for half of the country's daily infections. A final decision is expected on Thursday.
The declaration will likely be in effect until February 7. It will give prefectural governors the legal authority to urge residents to cooperate with prevention efforts.
The four governors will ask people to refrain from non-essential outings after 8 p.m. They will also request that bars and restaurants close by that time. Schools will not be asked to close.
But the government plans to step up restraints on the number of spectators allowed at live events. It will also ask companies to encourage remote work.
The head of the medical association hopes the move will lessen the strain on the country's health care system, but cautioned more action may be needed.
Japan Medical Association President Nakagawa Toshio said, "Depending on how the virus spreads, we may have to consider a nationwide state of emergency."
Cases continue to surge in the capital.
Tokyo reported a record 1,591 new cases on Wednesday. 113 people are seriously ill. That figure is also the highest to date.
Meanwhile, Japan's National Institute of Infectious Diseases says it has isolated the new variant of the coronavirus that has been spreading in the United Kingdom.
It was cultured and identified from samples taken from people who had tested positive for the coronavirus upon arrival in Japan.
Twenty-five people have been found to have new strains of the coronavirus in Japan.
The institute says it will provide samples of the new variant to scientists around the world for further study.