Expert panel concerned about increasing deaths from COVID in Japan

Infectious disease experts warn that deaths from the coronavirus are at record levels in Japan and group infection cases are increasing at nursing homes for the elderly and medical institutions. They expressed concern that the number of deaths may rise further.

An expert panel at Japan's health ministry held a meeting on Wednesday as the country faces its eighth wave of infections.

The experts said the number of infections fell temporarily in the country during the year-end and New Year period, but has since been on the rise.

They added that sharp increases are seen especially in the Chugoku, Shikoku and Kyushu regions of western Japan.

The occupancy rate of hospital beds for COVID-19 patients is exceeding 50 percent in many regions and even 70 percent in some areas.

Cases in which ambulance staffs have difficulty finding hospitals that can accept patients have also been on the increase, exceeding the levels amid the peak of the seventh wave in the summer of last year.

The number of infections will likely continue rising in many regions. The experts pointed out that people's immunity against the virus drops as time passes after vaccination or infection.

They also said there are rising cases of the BQ.1 sublineage of the Omicron variant, which is said to be more capable of dodging immunity.

They called for people to be on the alert for possible impacts from surging infections in China, especially if the types of virus spreading in the country enter Japan.

The experts also said strengthening medical systems is necessary to provide appropriate care to elderly people and people at high risk of developing serious symptoms.