Japan’s Osaka Cancels Olympic Torch Race, Declares COVID-19 Medical Emergency By Reuters

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A woman, wearing a protective mask following an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), walks down a nearly empty street in Osaka’s Dotonbori entertainment district.

By Rocky Swift TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s western Osaka region canceled scheduled prefecture-wide Olympic torch events on Wednesday as record-breaking coronavirus infections prompted its government to declare a medical emergency. Health authorities fear a variant of the virus is triggering a fourth wave of infections just 107 days before the Tokyo Olympics kick off, with a vaccination campaign still at an early stage. Osaka Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura said the tours of the streets would be canceled, adding that the medical system faced enormous strain as a more infectious variant caused cases to skyrocket among young people. “This mutant strain is almost certainly highly contagious with a high transmission speed,” he said in televised remarks. “I would like to ask all residents of Osaka Prefecture to refrain from going out unnecessarily. The medical system is in a very difficult situation.” The prefecture will report more than 800 new infections on Wednesday, national media said, for the second consecutive day of record numbers. Severe cases have occupied about 70% of the hospital beds in the region. Osaka and neighboring Hyogo and Miyagi prefectures began a month of targeted lockdown measures on Monday to control a more virulent strain of the virus. In recent days, Osaka’s infections have overtaken those in Tokyo, the Japanese capital and a much larger city. Still, Tokyo’s cases are also on an uptrend, with Wednesday’s 555 new infections at their highest since early February. Emergency measures in the Osaka area could be extended to Tokyo and elsewhere if necessary, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said on Sunday. Japan’s vaccination campaign lags far behind that of most major economies, with around 1 million people receiving at least one dose since February. That figure represents less than 1% of the population, compared to nearly 2% in neighboring South Korea, which started its campaign after Japan.

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