Each day seems to bring more bad news for Tokyo.
The daily count of new coronavirus cases has doubled in the past week, from about 40 in the final days of March to 97 on Thursday and 89 on Friday, according to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.
If the current trend continues, the outlook is bleak, said Kentaro Iwata, an infection control specialist from Kobe University, who has repeatedly warned that Japan isn’t doing enough to halt the spread of the virus.
“Japan needs to have the courage to change, when we are aware we are on the wrong path,” Iwata said. “We might see the next New York City in Tokyo.”
As of Friday, Japan had 3,329 confirmed cases and 74 deaths.
“The beginning of the burst of the infections in Spain, France, Italy, New York City – was really like Tokyo right now,” said Iwata.
He says there needs to be more testing.
As of Friday, Tokyo had tested fewer than 4,000 people in a city of 13.5 million. And just 39,466 people had been tested in this nation of 125 million, according to the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare.
That’s a tiny fraction compared to countries in the region and around the world. As of Friday, South Korea – which has a much smaller population than Japan – had tested more than 440,000 people.
The Japanese government says its testing regime is adequate and suitably targeted to high risk cases.
“Testing people with a low probability of novel coronavirus would be a waste of resources,” Japan’s Health Ministry told CNN in a statement. “We ask people with some symptoms to stay home for a period of time.”
Turned down for a test
Coronavirus patient Issei Watanabe spoke to CNN from his Tokyo hospital room. He struggled to breathe in between coughing fits. Doctors consider his a “mild case” and expect he’ll be discharged on Tuesday.
Watanabe is 40, a non-smoker, in good health. His symptoms came on quickly. Body aches, chills, no sense of taste or smell.
When he asked for a coronavirus test, he says he was turned down – and had to endure five days with a fever above 40 degrees Celsius – 104 degrees Fahrenheit – before he was finally allowed to take a test, which came back positive.
Watanabe says he infected at least two people during that time.
“People don’t know what to do. There’s a real lack of good information,” Watanabe said. “Your life is in your hands. Stay home. Please stay home. Don’t go out.”
Watanabe worries about the tens of millions of Japanese who are older than 65. He knows he’ll recover, but many in Japan’s aging society won’t.
Infectious disease experts warn of a steep price in human life – if coronavirus spreads rapidly, in this rapidly aging society.
“Coronavirus is very dangerous to old people,” said Masahiro Kami, executive director of Japan’s nonprofit Medical Governance Research Institute. He said most coronavirus patients in Japan are likely showing few, if any, symptoms.
“When they are asymptomatic, they can transmit the coronavirus to others,” Kami warned.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has repeatedly stated the situation inside Japan does not warrant declaring a state of emergency or imposing a lockdown in Tokyo.
He said such drastic measures would further damage an economy already grappling with the severe economic fallout of the coronavirus and the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 summer Olympics.