TOKYO (REUTERS) - Newly reported Covid-19 cases in Olympic host city Tokyo surged to a record high of 4,058 on Saturday (July 31), the metropolitan government said, exceeding 4,000 for the first time and overshadowing the Games.
Nationwide cases totalled 12,341 as of 6.30pm, public broadcaster NHK said, the highest ever for Japan and up 15 per cent on the day, underscoring a rapid rise in infections across the country.
The new record comes a day after Japan decided to extend the state of emergency to three prefectures near Olympic host Tokyo and the western prefecture of Osaka in the light of the recent spike in infections.
Amid intensifying concerns, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told a news conference the virus is spreading at an unprecedented speed largely because of the Delta variant, adding that he is worried the country's hospital beds could become stretched.
"With a heavy heart, I want to ask everyone: until we see the impact of more vaccinations, I want you all to stay vigilant and implement infection prevention measures to the full," he said, calling on people to watch the Olympics on TV at home.
Already, 64 per cent of Tokyo's hospital beds available for serious Covid-19 cases were filled as at mid-week.
The new emergency measures will be in effect from Aug 2-31, while existing states of emergency for Tokyo and southern Okinawa island will be extended to Aug 31, covering 37 per cent of the country's population.
Together with another five prefectures which Mr Suga declared as coming under "quasi-emergency", more than a half of the country now lives under some restrictions.
Health Minister Norihisa Tamura said the country had entered a new "extremely frightening" stage as cases are spiking even though the movement of people was not increasing.
"I think that people cannot see ahead and, worrying how long this situation will last, they find it unbearable that they cannot return to normal daily life," he said.
Japan has imposed a series of "state of emergency" declarations, but the orders are mostly voluntary, unlike other countries which impose strict lockdowns. Yet many people have grown weary of stay-home requests, with some bars refusing to adhere to service restrictions.
Mr Suga and Olympics organisers have denied there is any link between the July 23-Aug 8 Summer Games and the recent sharp spike in cases.
Unlike the voluntary restrictions and low vaccination rates elsewhere in Japan, the Olympic village in Tokyo for athletes and coaches boasts more than 80 per cent vaccination, testing is compulsory and movement is stringently curtailed.
Athletes and other attendees from around the world must follow strict rules to prevent any spread of the virus within the "Olympic bubble" or to the wider city. Spectators are banned from most venues.
But experts worry holding the Games has sent a confusing message to the public about the need to limit activities when less than 30 per cent of residents of Japan are fully vaccinated.
The surge in Covid-19 cases is bad news for Mr Suga, whose support rates are already at their lowest since he took office last September and who faces a ruling party leadership race and general election later this year.
Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who is spearheading Japan's Covid-19 response, repeated that all those who want to get vaccinated should be able to do so by November.