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Tokyo reports record rise in new coronavirus cases as plans for Olympics scrutinized

Situation is “rather severe,” Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike said.
Image: Commuters wearing face masks travel on a train in Tokyo on July 16, 2020.
Commuters wearing masks travel on a train in Tokyo on Thursday. Philip Fong / AFP - Getty Images

TOKYO — A record 286 new coronavirus cases were reported by the city government in Tokyo on Thursday — the highest number of new cases recorded in one day in Japan's capital since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

As a result, the city's government raised its coronavirus alert to “red," the highest of four levels, late Wednesday among fears of a second wave of infections. The previous daily high was 243 cases, recorded July 10, according to the city government's tally.

Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike described the situation as “rather severe." She also urged the Japanese government to reconsider the timing for its “Go To” campaign to boost domestic tourism, due to launch next week, pleading with people not to travel outside Tokyo unless necessary.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Wednesday 80 percent of the new cases in Tokyo are in people under 39 years of age.

“I understand it’s not leading to a collapse of the medical system,” he added.

In total, 8,354 coronavirus cases have been recorded in the capital as of Wednesday, according to the local government. Of those, 721 were hospitalized and eight are seriously ill.

Image: Social distance in order to prevent the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infections at Takanedai Daisan elementary school in Funabashi
Children wearing protective face masks at Takanedai Daisan elementary school, which practices various methods of social distance in order to prevent the infections, in Funabashi, east of Tokyo on Thursday. Kim Kyung-Hoon / Reuters

Emergency measures to stop the virus were lifted in May as infections fell in Japan, but people are still being asked to wear masks in public, maintain social distancing, wash their hands and avoid congested places without proper ventilation.

Japan has managed to largely weather the outbreak with 22,890 recorded cases and 985 deaths to date, a figure considerably lower than many countries in Europe. More than 13.5 million cases have been confirmed worldwide with the virus claiming more than 580,000 lives, according to data compiled by the Johns Hopkins University.

Image: People wearing face masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus walk in front of a banner reminding the public washing hands, Thursday, July 16, 2020, in Tokyo.
People wearing face masks walk in front of a banner reminding the public washing hands in Tokyo on Thursday. Eugene Hoshiko / AP

News of the record arrived a day after the International Olympics Committee said it did not want next year's Olympic Games in Tokyo to take place behind closed doors. Committee President Thomas Bach said they are working on “multiple scenarios” based on the advice of the World Health Organization.

The Tokyo Olympics were supposed to take place this summer, but were postponed until 2021 because of the pandemic.

The organizing committee is expected to provide an update on how the games will transition to the new date Friday.

If a vaccine is not found until next summer, the Olympic Committee may have to, once again, consider postponing or completely canceling the Tokyo Olympics, although Japanese officials have signaled in April that the games will be scrapped if they cannot take place in 2021.

Longtime Olympic Committee member Dick Pound also said Wednesday that if the postponed Tokyo Olympics did not go ahead next year, the 2022 Winter Games in China's capital Beijing will likely also fall victim to the pandemic, Reuters reported.

The Winter Games are scheduled for February 2022, just six months after the postponed Tokyo Games are set to take place.

Mai Nishiyama reported from Tokyo. Yuliya Talmazan from London.