People go through a tent for disinfection before visiting the Aoi Aso Jinja Shrine in Hitoyoshi, Kumamoto Prefecture, on December 31, 2020. Photo: AFP/The Yomiuri Shimbun

Tokyo reported more than 1,000 new coronavirus infections on Thursday, a record, as local and government officials warned that a state of emergency might be needed to tackle spiking cases.

Japan’s Jiji news agency reported that Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga had called emergency talks with ministers on the virus situation later Thursday.

“We are still compiling precise figures today. It has been reported to me that it will be above 1,000 and reach somewhere around 1,300,” Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike told reporters.

“For the coronavirus, there is no year-end and no new year holiday. In this winter season, we are seeing the coronavirus spread and it is an extremely serious situation,” she warned.

Japan has seen a comparatively limited outbreak compared to some parts of the world, with fewer than 3,500 deaths since it recorded its first case of the virus in January.

It has also avoided the harsh lockdown measures used in some countries, though the government imposed a “state of emergency” in the spring, calling on businesses to close and asking people to stay at home.

That measure carried no penalty for non-compliance and was lifted after several weeks when cases fell.

Infections stayed low during the summer, but in recent weeks a spike has alarmed officials and medical professionals, prompting calls for a new state of emergency, which the government has been reluctant to implement for fear of the economic fallout.

If cases continue to rise, the city “may have no choice but to request” the central government implement a new state of emergency, Koike warned on Wednesday.

Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister in charge of the coronavirus response, also warned Wednesday that a state of emergency would be needed to “protect the lives of the Japanese people” if infections continue to spike.

“The medical system will not be able to survive,” he said in a video message.

Suga, who took office this autumn after the resignation of Shinzo Abe, has been criticized for his government’s response to the third wave of infections, including backing a controversial program promoting domestic travel.

The program has been suspended over the new year, when many Japanese travel to visit family, and government officials have urged people to stay home to help suppress the new wave.

Medical professionals have for weeks been warning the country’s healthcare system is stretched beyond capacity. Earlier this week, the country’s former transport minister Yuichiro Hata became the first senior politician to die after contracting the virus.

AFP