More infections than reported behind Japan’s large winter COVID death toll: experts

TOKYO — The number of COVID-19 deaths during Japan’s “eighth wave” of infections this past winter was far greater than that of last summer’s seventh wave, even though the latter period saw more new cases, because there were actually more infections than reported during the eighth wave, a health ministry advisory board has said.

The estimate by the group of experts chaired by National Institute of Infectious Diseases director Takaji Wakita was presented during an advisory board meeting on Feb. 22. The group’s analysis also said it was unlikely that the nature of the coronavirus had changed, such as increased risks of developing serious illnesses.

According to the analysis, the eighth wave saw roughly 1.3 times higher rates of patients aged 80 and older among reported infections than during the seventh wave. The advisory board suggested the possibility that older people had more exposure to the virus due to reasons including group infections at elderly care centers and their family members visiting them during the year-end and New Year holiday.

The advisory board also said that the reason why Japan saw a higher percentage of older COVID-19 patients during the eighth wave than the seventh was possibly because there were more cases in which younger generations who had tested positive for the virus in self-checks didn’t report it to local authorities after the simplified rules on identifying all infections were implemented in September 2022. The group also suggested that one of the factors behind an increased number of fatalities during the eighth wave was more infections among the elderly as immunity gained through vaccinations and infections declined over time.

Wakita commented, “There are many cases where the details of what led to their deaths remain unknown. A thorough investigation into the causes of the deaths will be important for future countermeasures.”

(Japanese original by Takuya Murata, Lifestyle and Medical News Department)

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