Osaka issues virus spike warning, wants torch relay rerouted

TOKYO (AP) — Japan’s Osaka prefecture issued a special warning Wednesday that a rapid surge in coronavirus cases is placing medical systems in the region at the verge of collapse and requested the cancellation of the Olympic torch relay along all public roads in the prefecture.

Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura declared a “medial emergency” in the western Japanese prefecture, where daily cases have reached new highs, and asked hospitals to urgently prepare additional beds.

Yoshimura, who previously asked for a cancellation of the torch relay only in Osaka city, said all segments on public roads should be canceled. The Osaka leg of the Olympic torch run is scheduled for April 13-14.

The Tokyo Olympics are to start in just over three months, as Japan’s vaccination drive is still in its initial stages.

“Medical systems are on the verge of collapse,” Yoshimura said at a news conference. He attributed the rapid spike in infections to a new variant of the virus. “Obviously it spreads more rapidly and it is more contagious,(asterisk) he said. About 70% of hospital beds available in Osaka are now occupied, the threshold for declaring a “medical emergency,” officials said.

The measures come two days after Yoshimura issued a set of special virus measures for Osaka city alone.

Osaka’s neighboring prefecture of Hyogo is also facing an upsurge and has imposed special virus measures in four cities beginning Monday, along with Sendai, a city in the northern prefecture of Miyagi.

Infections also have surged elsewhere in the western region, which experts say may require additional virus protection measures and stay-home requests, possibly leading to the cancellation of more torch events, a further setback for the Olympics.

Osaka reported 878 new cases Wednesday, more than 555 in Tokyo, the national capital.

Yoshimura said he plans to issue an emergency request for residents of Osaka prefecture to avoid nonessential outings beginning Thursday.

Experts have expressed concern that new variants are starting to spread across the nation and the highly populated Tokyo region could be next.