The number of COVID-19 patients with severe symptoms in Japan hit a record 1,478 on Thursday, the health ministry said Friday, as the country grapples with an alarming rise in coronavirus infections amid the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant.

People wearing face masks walk in Tokyo's Shibuya area on Aug. 12, 2021, as the capital reported 4,989 new coronavirus cases the same day, the second highest figure after 5,042 infections logged a week earlier. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

The latest figure surpassed the previous record of 1,413 logged in late May, when Tokyo and some other areas were under a third state of emergency. Cases of COVID-19 patients falling seriously ill have been rapidly increasing nationwide since mid-July amid the fifth wave of the pandemic.

There has been a rise in such cases among those in their 40s and 50s due to a slow vaccine rollout mainly in Tokyo, while young people were also seen among patients with serious symptoms, defined as those requiring assistance by ventilators, artificial heart-lung bypass devices or treatment at intensive care units.

In Tokyo alone, the number of patients with severe symptoms hit a record high of 218 on Thursday, surpassing 200 for the first time.

Experts at Thursday's metropolitan government meeting on monitoring COVID-19 described the coronavirus situation in the capital, currently under its fourth state of emergency, as "a disaster-level emergency situation that is out of control."

On the same day, the number of new COVID-19 cases nationwide totaled over 18,000, topping the previous record of 15,812 reported a day earlier, according to a Kyodo News tally.

Tokyo also reported 4,989 new coronavirus cases, the second-highest daily figure after the 5,042 infections logged a week ago.