TOKYO (AP) – While Tokyo, home to the Olympic Games, recorded another record number of coronavirus cases on Wednesday, Japan’s vaccination minister said the speed of the country’s vaccination campaign is less urgent than the application of vaccines to young people, whom some health experts blame for the current increase in infections.
Vaccination Minister Taro Kono told The Associated Press that Japan is “exceeding” its target of one million injections a day, so “speed doesn’t matter anymore.” Japan averages around 10 million shots a week after a late start.
“Even if we slow down a bit, I’m fine. Rather, we need to reach out to younger people, so that they feel they need to get vaccinated, ”Kono said, speaking in English during an interview in his office.
Many in Japan fear that the tens of thousands of visitors allowed special entry for the Olympics will trigger more massive spikes in cases or a new variant of the coronavirus.
Tokyo reported 3,177 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, a historical record for the city and the first time it exceeded 3,000 infections in one day. The new cases surpassed the previous record of 2,848 set on Tuesday and brought the total for the Japanese capital to 206,745 since the pandemic began early last year.
So far, Japan has kept its cases and deaths lower than many other countries. But its vaccination campaign started too late compared to other major economies, and there are fears that the surge in cases could overwhelm hospitals.
Tokyo is in its fourth state of emergency, which will last until the Olympics and Paralympics next month. Experts had previously warned that the more contagious delta variant could cause a surge during the Olympics, which began on Friday.
Health experts have noted that cases among younger, unvaccinated people are increasing dramatically. While about two-thirds of Wednesday’s cases were people in their 30s or younger, people in their 50s now dominate Tokyo’s nearly 3,000 inpatients and are gradually filling available beds. Authorities are reportedly planning to ask medical institutions to increase their capacity to about 6,000.
Dr. Ryuji Wakita, director general of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases and head of a government advisory board, said that progress in vaccination has been mainly limited to older people, while younger people are still largely unprotected. . Emergency measures must be taken firmly, he said, to prevent further spread of the virus during the Olympics and the summer holiday season.
Wakita acknowledged that the increase in severe cases is modest compared to the sharp increase in daily cases, but even so, the continued increase could cause younger, unvaccinated patients who flood hospitals to develop severe cases while staying at home and they do not receive treatment.
“The younger generations are largely unvaccinated, and that is why people in their 40s and 50s are increasingly infected and hospitalized,” he said. “The level of vaccinations in Japan has not reached a state where we can easily allow the number of infections to increase.”