Japan's Osaka reports record 1,099 COVID-19 cases, mutation fuels new wave

FILE PHOTO: A woman, wearing protective mask following an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), walks on an almost empty street in the Dotonbori entertainment district of Osaka
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TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's western region of Osaka reported a record number of infections of COVID-19 on Tuesday as a mutant strain of the virus fuelled a rebound in cases.

Osaka reported 1,099 daily infections, a record high for the prefecture, which is home to 8.8 million people and is Japan's second-biggest metropolis.

The virus has hit Osaka hard in recent weeks, prompting authorities to enforce targeted lockdown measures. Similar curbs were adopted in Tokyo on Monday amid a rebound in the capital region.

A highly contagious variant discovered in Britain is driving a fourth wave of cases in western Japan, mostly among younger people. Tuesday's record exceeded the previous peak of 918 infections on Saturday.

Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who oversees the country’s pandemic response, said the surge in cases of the mutated strain was particularly worrying.

"The situation, with pressure on hospital beds, is severe. I have a strong sense of crisis about it,” he told reporters at a news conference.

Osaka Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura cancelled parts of the Olympic Torch relay on public streets, forcing torchbearers to run in an empty park on Tuesday.

Last week Japan clamped curbs on Osaka, its neighboring prefecture of Hyogo and Miyagi in the northeast. That allowed authorities to order shorter operating hours at bars and restaurants, and to punish those who don't comply by fining them 200,000 yen ($1,820) and publishing their names.

(Reporting by Rocky Swift and Daniel Leussink; Writing by Ritsuko Ando; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Ed Osmond & Simon Cameron-Moore)