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Japan's COVID death toll tops 20,000 amid omicron spread

Sixth wave pushes daily toll into triple digits in recent weeks

At least 150 deaths were reported on Feb. 11, including 27 in Osaka Prefecture in western Japan. (Photo by Tomoki Mera)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The cumulative COVID-19 death toll in Japan topped 20,000 Friday, with the figure on a rising trend in recent weeks amid the sixth wave of infections driven by the highly transmissible Omicron variant, a Kyodo News tally showed.

Japan has seen over 100 deaths daily since early this year, mostly among the elderly population, as the fast-spreading variant has strained the country's medical system.

According to the health ministry, 84 percent of 18,400 deaths confirmed earlier were people in their 70s or above. Meanwhile, there were 27 deaths among those in their 20s and four among those aged 10 to 19.

At least 150 deaths were reported on Friday, including 27 in Osaka Prefecture in western Japan and 18 in Kanagawa Prefecture, near Tokyo.

Japan confirmed its first death from COVID-19 on Feb. 13, 2020, before the nationwide infection tally hit 10,000 on April 26 last year amid the fourth wave of infections.

Deaths attributed to COVID-19 have surpassed 5.79 million worldwide, with the United States the hardest hit in the world at just over 915,600 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

Japan's total coronavirus infections stand at about 3.78 million cases, with about 0.5 percent leading to death.

Takaji Wakita, an expert who sits on a health ministry advisory panel, said the number of deaths has increased due to the large numbers of infections, even though the Omicron variant is less deadly than the Delta strain that caused a surge last summer.

"The key now is how to reduce infections in the elderly population. It is important to advance countermeasures at elderly facilities and efforts to administer booster shots," he said.

Only about 7.9 percent of the population had received booster shots as of Thursday. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is seeking to rev up inoculations, setting a target of 1 million booster shots a day by the end of February.

In line with the government's request for businesses to support its vaccination drive, major corporations are preparing to administer booster shots to their employees and others.

According to a Kyodo News survey conducted between Jan. 20 and Monday, 118, or over 90 percent, of the 125 major companies that responded said they are planning on or considering workplace inoculations.

Among the 118 firms, 32, including Sumitomo Chemical Co. and Kao Corp., said they plan to begin administering the shots this month, while 60 said they will start in March.

Five companies said they do not plan to offer workplace vaccinations, with some saying that the importance of workplace inoculation has decreased as municipalities have strengthened their vaccination capacity.

On Friday, Japan confirmed 98,370 daily coronavirus cases, including 18,660 in Tokyo and 15,302 in Osaka Prefecture. The number of people with severe symptoms increased 70 from a day before to 1,340.

Tokyo and 34 other prefectures have been under a COVID-19 quasi-state of emergency, under which dining establishments are asked to shorten business hours and people to refrain from nonessential travel between prefectures.

The government on Thursday extended the measure in the capital and 12 prefectures by three weeks through March 6 beyond its previous deadline on Sunday.

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