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Coronavirus

Tokyo reports record 949 daily coronavirus cases

Infections continue to rise as Suga calls on Japanese to spend holidays 'quietly'

Commuters wearing masks crowd a street in Shinjuku, Tokyo, on Dec. 25.

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Tokyo reported a record 949 daily coronavirus cases Saturday as concern grew following the confirmation the previous day that a potentially more transmissible variant of the virus is present in Japan.

The Japanese capital's seven-day rolling average of new infections reached 711.4, according to a tally based on official data, indicating that cases are continuing to rise as the year-end and New Year holidays commence across the country.

On Friday, the government said five people -- four males and one female all aged under 70 -- had been confirmed as infected with the new variant following their arrival from Britain, where it is spreading.

Two more people -- a man in his 30s with a history of traveling to Britain and one of his family members in Tokyo -- have been confirmed as infected with the new strain, sources familiar with the matter said Saturday.

British health officials have said the new strain, which was first detected in September, could be up to 70% more transmissible but there was no evidence of it being deadlier or reducing the effectiveness of vaccines.

The variant has also been confirmed in Australia, Denmark, Hong Kong, Italy, the Netherlands and Singapore, according to media reports.

The latest daily infection figure in the capital surpassed the previous record of 888 logged Thursday and topped 800 for the third straight day, bringing Tokyo's cumulative total to 55,851.

As many people typically return to their hometowns or travel to other places during the holidays, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has called on the public to spend the period "quietly" and avoid large gatherings of family and friends.

With smaller crowds than usual at airports and major train stations around Tokyo on Saturday, many people appear to have heeded the advice.

The number of people hospitalized with serious symptoms in Tokyo stood at 81, unchanged from Friday. Of the 949, 277 were in their 20s and 113 were aged 65 or older, according to the Tokyo metropolitan government.

The metropolitan government has raised its alert regarding the strain on its medical system to the highest of four levels. It is the first time the most severe level has been reached since the outbreak of the virus.

Restaurants and bars serving alcohol have been asked to cut their opening hours by closing at 10 p.m. across the capital, which is the hardest hit among the country's 47 prefectures.

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