Japan faces new wave of infections

This article is part of a series on important information related to the coronavirus. Click here to read other installments: #Coronavirus the facts. Get the latest information on all things COVID-19.

The number of cases is increasing

Infections are increasing across Japan, especially in the northern area of ​​Hokkaido and other areas. Experts say it’s likely the start of an eighth wave of COVID.

In many cases during previous waves, infections started in cities with large populations like Tokyo and its surroundings and spread to other places as people moved. But the latest wave started in Hokkaido and the northern region of Tohoku.

The Omicron BA.5 version is still dominant. It was the most popular type during the seventh wave that was in Japan during the summer.

Professor Hamada Atsuo, Tokyo Medical University Hospital, says that BA.5 is now considered to be in a state of resurgence in regions where people have less immunity.

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Graph: Daily Cases of COVID-19 in Japan

Other versions emerge

Experts are concerned that the spread of other Omicron variants could trigger a spike in infections.

Figures submitted at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s COVID-19 monitoring meeting on November 17 show that the BA.5 variant accounted for more than 98 percent of infections during September, but is now falling.

Chart: COVID-19 scenarios in Tokyo

On the other hand, variations such as BA.2.75 and BQ.1.1 are gradually increasing. During October, they accounted for 2.5 percent and 2.4 percent of cases respectively. Over the same period, BA.5 accounted for 90.5 per cent of cases; BF.7, 2 percent; BQ.1, 0.7 percent; and XBB, 0.7 percent.

BQ.1.1, along with BQ.1, is replacing BA.5 in the United States.

Professor Hamada is watching the new versions closely to see what role they play in the next set of monthly figures.

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He says the Omicron-targeted vaccines in the current rollout are considered effective against BQ.1 and XBB. With concerns about a double outbreak of COVID-19 and the flu this winter, people are advised to get the flu shot as well.

Cases of flu

Currently, the number of flu patients in Japan is lower than during the pre-pandemic period. But with the number of cases and school/class closures increasing in some areas, the trend is being monitored.

*Related article: Japan prepares for possible double virus outbreak (November 11, 2022)

*Related article: Omicron BA.5 vaccine in Japan (October 27, 2022)

Policy reforms

The Japanese government has overhauled its alert system for coronavirus infections, reducing it from five levels of urgency to four levels. The aim is to avoid strain on healthcare systems and prioritize care for high-risk people. It also allowed each prefectural government to strengthen their own measures in response.

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Level 3

Level three comes into play when the continued spread of infections is so great that hospitals are too full for people at greater risk of developing serious symptoms to get immediate access to medical services. In such cases, prefectural governments can issue a declaration to strengthen preventive measures and ask permission for people with COVID symptoms to refrain from trips.

Level 4

This is the most serious level. It means that health care systems are no longer functioning properly due to an excessive number of patients. Prefectural governments can issue a medical emergency declaration and make other more powerful requests. For example, they can ask residents to work from home where possible and refrain from travelling. Organizers may be asked to postpone events.

This information is accurate as of November 24, 2022.

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