A total of 252 new coronavirus deaths were reported in Japan on Saturday, bringing the death toll for January to 10,124, the first time a monthly figure has exceeded 10,000, according to a tally based on prefectural reports.

COVID-19 deaths have been rapidly increasing in the country since around November when the number of infected people rebounded. More than 7,600 people died in December, the highest monthly total at that time.

About 54,800 new infections were reported nationwide Saturday, according to prefectural governments, while the health ministry said there are 533 severe cases, down 24 from Friday.

Daily infections have been declining since the middle of the month.

Japan has decided to downgrade the legal status of the novel coronavirus in May to the same category as seasonal influenza and other common infectious diseases, a major shift that will lead to a normalization of social and economic activities in the country.