Infectious disease experts on Thursday called for foot traffic in Tokyo to be cut by half from the level in early July, prior to the current state of emergency in the capital, to stem the alarming rise in coronavirus infections.
The experts on a government subcommittee on the COVID-19 response also urged, in their draft proposal, strengthening measures to reduce crowds in situations where infection risk is high including underground food sections at department stores and shopping malls.
With patients in need of medical attention rising, the experts stressed the need to seek cooperation from health institutions that have previously not been involved in coronavirus response and promote coordination with prefectural governments over the hospitalization of patients.
The number of new COVID-19 cases nationwide totaled over 18,000 on Thursday, topping the previous record of 15,812 reported a day earlier, according to a Kyodo News tally.
Tokyo reported 4,989 new coronavirus cases the same day, the second-highest figure after the 5,042 infections logged a week ago. The number of patients with severe symptoms also hit a record high of 218, surpassing 200 for the first time.
The capital's seven-day rolling average of new infections was 3,976 per day, up 9 percent from a week earlier.
"At this rate, we will no longer be able to save lives that could be saved. That is already starting to happen," Shigeru Omi, Japan's top coronavirus adviser, warned at a press conference.
Experts at Thursday's metropolitan government meeting on monitoring COVID-19 described the coronavirus situation in the capital, currently under a fourth state of emergency, as "a disaster-level emergency situation that is out of control."
As new daily infections in Tokyo have ranged from around 2,000 to 5,000 in recent weeks, they also warned that the medical system is becoming dysfunctional, including in terms of paramedic response and conducting surgery.
They also cautioned that the seven-day rolling average of new infections on Aug. 25 would hit 5,113, if the current trend continues.
"The medical system cannot be maintained if the current infection situation continues," Masataka Inokuchi, a vice chairman of the Tokyo Medical Association, told the meeting.
Inokuchi noted it has not only become difficult for hospitals to admit coronavirus patients whose symptoms have deteriorated while recuperating at home but also patients in need of emergency care due to injuries and other illnesses.
The number of people recuperating at home increased by over 3,800 in the week through Thursday to 20,726.
Infections in 15 of Japan's 47 prefectures had exceeded their maximum daily estimates as of Thursday, according to sources close to the matter.
The maximum numbers, compiled by the health ministry, indicate how many hospital beds each prefecture has secured for an emergency.