Expert warns of surge in COVID-19 cases in Japan this month

A coronavirus expert in Japan has warned that the number of daily new cases could rise sharply after mid-January, possibly topping the previous record.

Toho University Professor Tateda Kazuhiro, on the government's coronavirus advisory panel, said the daily tally could reach the government's earlier projection of 450,000 nationwide. That's much more than the highest number in the pandemic's seventh wave last summer in Japan.

Tateda said the bed occupancy rates at his university's hospitals are rising, including seriously ill patients, due to the spike in the number of coronavirus cases.

He said frontline healthcare facilities are under increasing strain to prevent in-hospital infections, as many patients who had been hospitalized for other illnesses like strokes later tested positive for COVID-19.

The health ministry says it confirmed 456 coronavirus-related deaths nationwide on Friday, the highest single-day toll in Japan since the pandemic began. The previous record was 420 on December 29 last year.

The ministry also says the number of new cases amounted to 245,542 nationwide on the day.

Tateda warned that unless the rise in infections is curbed, more people may die given the overburdened hospital situation. He noted that a simultaneous outbreak of seasonal influenza is likely.

The professor urged people to be aware of the harsh reality and maintain basic anti-infection measures.

He also asked people with low risk of developing severe symptoms to use test kits and recuperate at home to reduce the strain at hospitals. He recommended utilizing local healthcare follow-up centers as well as online medical consultations.