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Tokyo raises COVID-19 alert to highest as medical crunch looms

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Tokyo

TOKYO (Reuters) – The Japanese capital Tokyo, faced with acute strains on its medical system from the COVID-19 pandemic, raised its alert level to the highest of four stages on Thursday as the number of new cases spiked to a record daily high of 822.

A health official said it had become difficult to balance the care of COVID-19 patients with regular ones as hospital beds filled up, and a “red” alert for medical preparedness had been assigned for the first time.

“We fear a serious dysfunction of the medical system in two weeks, on December 31, if the number of new daily infections keeps growing at the current pace,” Masataka Inokuchi, vice chair of the Tokyo Medical Association, told a news conference attended by Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike.

The metropolitan government in the city of 14 million people said the number of new coronavirus cases hit 822 on Thursday, surpassing the previous record of 678 reached a day earlier.

Tokyo issued a special coronavirus alert for the year-end and new year periods to raise public awareness, Koike said.

“We need to turn this holiday season into a special period to stop the spread of the infections.”

The Tokyo government has asked medical institutions in the capital to raise the number of hospital beds set aside for COVID-19 patients to 4,000 from the current 3,000, she said.

A month ago, Tokyo raised its coronavirus alert for new infections – a separate category – to the highest level. It had kept its alert for medical preparedness at the second-highest level at the time, indicating a need to boost hospital capacity but a notch below critical conditions.

Japan has reported an overall total of 190,935 infections and 2,791 deaths from the respiratory disease since the outbreak began early this year, according to public broadcaster NHK.

(Reporting by Chang-Ran Kim and Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Mark Heinrich)

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