Officials in Tokyo confirmed 4,392 new cases in the capital on Sunday, the highest ever for that day of the week. Eight patients died; 271 were in serious condition.
On August 20, the government expanded its fourth coronavirus-related state of emergency amid a surge in cases driven by the highly contagious Delta variant. The declaration now covers 13 prefectures. The government also widened its list of prefectures covered by intensive anti-virus measures to 16. Both policies will run through September 12.
The rising case numbers are stretching the medical system to breaking point. The Chiba University Hospital more than doubled the number of beds in its intensive care unit over the past week, but the unit remains fully occupied with serious COVID-19 cases. This shift in focus and resources means the hospital is having to turn away most general emergency patients.
"Working here drives home to me just how dangerous the situation is," says Doctor Nakada Takaaki. "It's not dissimilar to a natural disaster. We can't treat everyone. We have to make tough decisions."
A woman in her 50s living in Tokyo is one of the many people who have been forced to recover at home. She tested positive last month despite being twice-vaccinated. Her symptoms included a high fever, cough and loss of smell.
The woman lives alone and says she did not receive the usual assistance given to people recovering at home, including meals and a device to monitor oxygen levels.
"I felt deserted," she says. "I really worry about what's going to happen to older people who live alone and don't have any family members to support them. I'm scared for them."
There are similar concerns across the country. On Friday, Gifu Prefecture was added to the list of areas subject to intensive measures. But officials there want even stricter measures and are lobbying the government to declare a state of emergency there.
"The infection situation is changing rapidly," said Gifu Governor Furuta Hajime on Sunday. "I asked the central government to allow the three prefectures in the Tokai region—Aichi, Mie, and Gifu—to work together to fight the virus under a state of emergency."
The government's coronavirus advisory panel has said the flow of people in Tokyo must be halved by late August. The head of the panel, Omi Shigeru, appeared on an NHK program on Sunday and warned that the situation will become more serious unless tougher measures are taken. "I am concerned that people's activities will increase with the end of the summer holiday season," he said.
But the minister in charge of the coronavirus response, Nishimura Yasutoshi, speaking on the same program, said it would be difficult to clamp down further.
"The people are growing used to the coronavirus and are becoming weary of self-restraint. Young people in particular are eager to go out and be active," he said. But he added that the government would look at what else it can do under current laws.