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Coronavirus

Tokyo's severe cases of COVID shift to those in their 40s and 50s

Authorities prepare to use AstraZeneca vaccine to accelerate inoculation push

People walking in front of Tokyo Station in the Marunouchi district. Those in their 40s and 50s now account for 50% of severe cases in the capital. (Photo by Tetsuya Kitayama)

TOKYO -- With 70% of people aged 65 and older having received their second vaccine shot as of Tuesday, the bulk of severe COVID-19 cases in Japan's capital has shifted to those in their 40s and 50s.

Now people in their 40s and 50s account for 50% of severe cases in Tokyo, the health ministry's advisory board said in its latest statistics Wednesday.

For new COVID cases, people in their 20s and 30s comprise the largest share -- roughly 50%. But younger people tend to have less serious symptoms. They account for only 10% of severe cases, the statistics showed.

Taken together, the figures reveal a new phenomenon that differs from the "third wave" of COVID in January when hospitals came close to being overwhelmed with patients. The vaccinated elderly are able to avoid severe symptoms. Vaccinating the middle-aged demographic is emerging as the next priority.

On Wednesday, Nikkei learned that Japan's health ministry is considering using the coronavirus vaccine developed by British-Swedish company AstraZeneca for inoculating people in their 40s and 50s. This marks a shift from an earlier plan to use the AstraZeneca vaccine -- which has had some safety concerns after a small number of people who received it died -- for those in their 60s and older in case of emergency, as localities run out of doses. Inoculations in Japan have centered around vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna.

As Japan reports record numbers of daily infections, an increasing number of those in their 40s and 50s are becoming seriously ill, making it imperative to give shots to people in this age group.

The advisory board warned that the country is seeing an unprecedented expansion of COVID, with the number of new cases in Tokyo rising to 3,177 on Wednesday, the second consecutive day of record highs. Officials are concerned that the just-concluded four-day holiday may have contributed to the surge.

In late January, people above 60 made up about 20% of new cases. Today that demographic is down to 5%.

As of Monday, hospital-bed usage for COVID stands at about 42%. It is far lower than the "Stage 4" crisis of January when usage surpassed 80%.

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