Experts who advised the health ministry during the COVID-19 crisis urged caution this summer, saying they feared cases will surge.

The advisory panel met June 16 for the first time since COVID-19 was downgraded as an infectious disease on May 8.

It concluded that a gradual increase in cases from April would continue for the foreseeable future with the possibility that numbers would spike as summer progresses.

The health ministry in the meantime released figures on the number of cases reported at 5,000 select medical institutions nationwide for the week of June 5-11. It said the average number of patients per medical institution came in at 5.11, a 1.12-fold increase over the previous week.

The figure is nearly twice as large as 2.63 for the week of May 8-14, soon after the downgrading of COVID-19. 

Okinawa Prefecture again had the highest figure of the 47 prefectures with 18.41 patients per medical institution, more than double the figure of all other prefectures.

“While the nation’s medical care structure is not under undue stress, the situation in Okinawa Prefecture requires careful monitoring,” said Takaji Wakita, the head of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases and chair of the ministry’s advisory panel.

Thirty-six prefectures recorded increases over the previous week. However, some prefectures in the Tohoku region of northeastern Japan reported a decline in the number of cases.

A total of 4,330 COVID-19 patients were newly hospitalized during the week of June 4-11. A daily average of 79 patients over the seven-day period had serious symptoms that required special breathing equipment. Both figures represented increases over the previous week.

Another report submitted to the advisory panel meeting found almost no change in the antibody prevalence rate.

Checks of blood donated for transfusion around the nation between mid- and late May found an antibody rate of 42.8 percent, compared with 42 percent in February.

Wakita noted that the antibody rate in many Western nations was about 80 percent, meaning the illness was under control.

But the low figure for Japan points to the likelihood of an increase in COVID-19 cases this summer.

Another experts’ panel under the health ministry also met June 16 and agreed that the vaccine to be administered from September would mainly target the XBB.1 subvariant of the Omicron strain of the novel coronavirus.

(This article was written by Kazuhiro Fujitani, Kazuya Goto and Mirei Jinguji.)

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