Japan has managed to keep coronavirus numbers low, but its strategy for success is being tested as cases reach record highs across the country.
While total case numbers remain low, they have begun to multiply rapidly, prompting Japan’s prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, to warn on Thursday that the country is on “maximum alert” in an effort to prevent infections from running out of control.
Mr. Suga requested that people be more vigilant about wearing masks, especially while dining out, and said he might request stronger measures based on the advice of a panel of experts that will report to him this week.
Japan reported over 2,000 new cases on Wednesday, the first time it has crossed that threshold since the pandemic began.
Tokyo on Thursday announced that it would go on red alert, the highest level of a four-tier system, as it reported over 500 new cases, setting a record for the second day in a row. The change in alert is a largely symbolic measure meant to remind people to exercise heightened caution to prevent the virus’s spread.
In his remarks, Mr. Suga said he would not ask businesses to shorten their hours or stop government subsidies for travel and eating out, which were implemented after the virus’s first wave demolished the country’s service sector. Some health experts have argued that the program may have helped spread the virus.
This is the country’s third wave of infections.
But this surge is the most alarming yet, a panel of experts working for the Tokyo government said Thursday. While the two previous waves were mostly limited to young people, this one has hit a more diverse group, including middle-aged and older people, a change that could put more strain on the country’s hospitals. Additionally, an increasing number of cases have been traced back to homes.
So far, Japan has largely managed to avoid the large-scale outbreaks that have hit the United States and Europe. Experts say the country’s success comes from public education that has encouraged people to avoid the so-called three Cs — closed spaces, crowded places and close contact — and a high level of social compliance that has made mask-wearing and social distancing ubiquitous.