The number of people seriously ill with covid-19 in Tokyo is in danger of surging in the coming weeks, peaking as the Olympics are underway, even without thousands of participants streaming into the capital.
A new analysis shows severe coronavirus cases could rise to a level that would require another state of emergency by early August in Tokyo, despite progress in vaccinating the elderly -- if current restrictions in Japan's urban areas are lifted as scheduled June 20. The disease modeling from Kyoto University professor Hiroshi Nishiura was presented Wednesday to government officials at a coronavirus advisory board meeting.
With the Olympics set to start in under two months, many people have focused on the risk posed by tens of thousands of overseas athletes and support staff arriving in Japan, which has been effectively closed to visitors since the beginning of the pandemic. Experts now are zeroing in on domestic factors that could contribute to an uptick in cases that would coincide with the games.
"There are four consecutive holidays right before the Olympics, summer vacation and Obon holiday," when people traditionally travel home to visit the graves of their ancestors, said Haruka Sakamoto, a public health researcher at the University of Tokyo. "It's easy to imagine that more and more people will think, 'If the Olympics can be held, it's OK for us to travel.'"
And that may cause an increase in the number of people infected, Sakamoto said. Nishiura's analysis notes that the spread of virus variants already in Japan would also contribute to the uptick.
The games will be held even if Tokyo is under a state of emergency, John Coates, the International Olympic Committee's vice president, said in May.
It would be difficult to determine if an increase in cases would be because of the Olympics or other factors. A jump in infections, however, would strain the medical system, especially if they occur in younger people -- many of whom do not yet qualify for vaccination in Japan and are more likely to seek critical care if their symptoms turn serious, said Sakamoto.
Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, British Health Secretary Matt Hancock has defended his handling of the coronavirus pandemic after a series of allegations from Prime Minister Boris Johnson's former top adviser.
Facing questioning from lawmakers, Hancock said Thursday that he had "no idea" why Dominic Cummings had a dispute with him and that he'd become aware that Cummings had wanted him fired.
Two weeks ago, Cummings told lawmakers investigating the virus outbreak in the U.K. that Hancock "should have been fired" for a series of lies and for a litany of errors during the pandemic. Cummings had told lawmakers he would send them evidence to back up his claims. Hancock said it was "telling" that Cummings had not produced anything yet.
Hancock denied that he had said anything to the prime minister that he knew to be untrue and added that Johnson's Conservative government was functioning better as a result of Cummings' departure at the end of last year.Gallery: Coronavirus scenes, 6-10-2021
As Britian debated the handling of the pandemic, Germany started rolling out on Thursday a digital vaccination pass that can be used across Europe.
The country's health minister said starting this week vaccination centers, doctors practices and pharmacies will gradually start giving out digital passes to fully vaccinated people.
The CovPass will let users download proof of their coronavirus vaccination status onto a smartphone app, allowing them easy access to restaurants, museums or other venues that require proof of immunization.
The vaccination passport should be available to everyone in Germany who is fully vaccinated by the end of this month, Health Minister Jens Spahn said.
Also Thursday, hospitals in Lebanon warned they may be forced to suspend kidney dialysis next week because of severe supply shortages.
Lebanon is grappling with an unprecedented economic and financial crisis that has seen the local currency collapse and banks clamp down on withdrawals and money transfers.
As the Central Bank's foreign currency reserves dry up, the country has been witnessing shortages in medicines, fuel and other basic goods.The once-thriving health care system has been among the hardest hit, with some hospitals halting elective surgeries, laboratories running out of test kits and doctors warning in recent days that they may even run out of anesthesia for operations.
Doctors said Thursday that they may be forced to suspend kidney dialysis next, blaming shortages on a dispute between medical importers and the central bank over subsidies.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong government officials said Thursday that they will offer the vaccine to about 240,000 children from 12-15 years old starting today, joining other countries that have started vaccinating children.
Elsewhere in Asia, Singapore will increase group gathering sizes and allow dining at food outlets to resume after aggressive virus restrictions over the past month stemmed an outbreak in infections.
Beginning Monday, group sizes will be raised to five from two people, while operating capacities of attractions, events and cruises will be increased to 50% from 25%, the health ministry said in a statement Thursday. From June 21, dining-in at restaurants can resume, as well as live performances, in-person tuition and gym classes.
For companies, however, work-from-home remains the default arrangement, according to the statement.
"Further relaxations such as for group and event sizes, capacity limits, distancing requirements, mask-wearing and travel will be introduced when a sufficient proportion of the population has been fully vaccinated, especially for those who are vaccinated," it read.
Authorities also have granted interim approval for self-test kits, that produce results in less than 20 minutes, to be sold at retail pharmacies from June 16 onward. Sales will be initially limited to 10 kits per person.
Information for this article was contributed by Lisa Du, Philip J. Heijmans and Kwan Wei Kevin Tan of Bloomberg News (WPNS); and by Pan Pylas, Kirsten Grieshaber, Zeina Karam, Fadi Tawil and Zen Soo of The Associated Press.