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Former Japan official: COVID-19 cases likely higher than reported

Criticism of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's response to COVID-19 is growing in the country. Photo by Keizo Mori/UPI
Criticism of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's response to COVID-19 is growing in the country. Photo by Keizo Mori/UPI | License Photo

April 9 (UPI) -- A former Japanese health chief says the number of coronavirus cases in his country could be 10 times higher than official estimates, citing the low number of reported infections.

Yoichi Masuzoe, a former health minister and ex-governor of Tokyo, said the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delayed taking action and did not heed Masuzoe's warnings, local newspaper Mainichi Shimbun reported Thursday.

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Masuzoe said he urged the government to make polymerase chain reaction testing more widely available to the public, but Tokyo did little in response.

The former health chief added he could not rule out the possibility the total number of cases could be 10 times higher, or "by another zero," according to the report.

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Masuzoe's criticism of the government comes at a time when Japan is reporting a spike in cases. The number of cases, fewer than 5,000, remains relatively low compared to other countries. The statistics do not include patients infected on the cruise ship that was docked in Yokohama in January.

As more patients are being confirmed for COVID-19, data is becoming available about the infected population in Japan.

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According to Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, 70 percent of patients who died from the disease are men, while 60 percent of all cases are also men, NHK and Jiji Press reported Thursday.

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The numbers roughly align with statistics from the World Health Organization. According to the WHO, about two-thirds of patients in Europe who died from COVID-19 were men.

On Thursday, Suga also said underlying conditions and age had an impact on the severity of the infection.

Japan did not declare a state of emergency until after the 2020 Summer Olympics were postponed on March 24.

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The Daily Beast reported Thursday Japan's low level of testing makes it "difficult to accurately assess the COVID-19 prevalence rate."

Analysts surmise the actual number of cases and deaths could be buried in Japan's pneumonia statistics, according to the report.

Japan says it has conducted 61,498 tests, far below neighboring South Korea at 494,711. The two countries experienced their first outbreaks at a similar point in time.

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