Japan's record COVID deaths mount in wave estimated to last till April

FILE PHOTO: A medical worker wearing personal protection equipment (PPE) walks inside the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) ward at St. Marianna University Yokohama Seibu Hospital where patients suffering from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) are being treated in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, Japan May 25, 2021. Picture taken May 25, 2021. REUTERS/Issei Kato/File Photo

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan set a new record for daily deaths from COVID-19 in a wave of Omicron-fuelled fatalities that a government-affiliated researcher estimated may stretch into April.

Newly recorded fatalities rose to 271 on Thursday, according to a tally by national broadcaster NHK, the third straight day over 200. There have been 2,446 deaths so far in February, already the second-deadliest month in the two-year pandemic.

A panel of health experts said this week that a surge of cases caused by the infectious Omicron variant appears to have peaked out, but hospitalisations and deaths would likely continue, particularly among the elderly.

Kyoto University professor Hiroshi Nishiura estimated that the Omicron wave would claim 4,339 lives between January and April 20, with more than 70% of the victims in their 80s or older. That number could be reduced depending on the progression of booster shots, acccording to Nishiura.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has pledged to accelerate Japan’s booster shot programme, which has so far reached just 12% of the population.

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