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Editorial: Japan must prepare medical system for possible explosive rise in virus cases

  • April 1, 2020
  • , The Mainichi
  • English Press

The spread of infections with the novel coronavirus is continuing across Japan. The government has indicated that Japan has not yet reached a stage where a declaration of an emergency is needed. But depending on the situation in the future, consideration of such a move may be required.


Holding one of the keys to how the situation develops is the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. In a recent news conference held by Gov. Yuriko Koike, government experts in charge of measures against clusters of infections in the country presented an analysis of the situation. They said that there were signs of an exponential rise in infections, but that there had not been an explosive rise in the number of cases.


Experts are now considering establishing an index to determine an explosive increase. At this stage it is important not to miss the signs. This index will likely influence the decision on whether or not to declare a state of emergency. We hope it will be presented in a form that is easy for the public to understand and agree to.


At the same time, Japan’s medical capacity in some areas is in a precarious situation. There are a mere 118 beds in Tokyo that can be used for people with designated infectious diseases, but the number of COVID-19 patients has already surpassed that figure. As more patients emerge, the lack of hospital beds is likely to become more serious.


Gov. Koike declared that she would secure 500 hospital beds and increase the number in the future to accept 4,000 patients. That would mean ordinary hospitals would have to accept COVID-19 patients. Preparation for this scenario should be advanced quickly.


We hope that university hospitals and other facilities with high levels of medical care and adequate staff numbers will cooperate to deal with the situation. The establishment of systems to prevent infections from spreading within hospitals is essential. Those handling medical care also must secure the necessary equipment and a sufficient number of medical workers. Local bodies should support this.


To address a further increase in the number of patients, those with only light symptoms or without any symptoms will need to stay at home or at other accommodation facilities. If they don’t do that, then medical services will not be able to cope with those with serious symptoms.


The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has indicated a general rule for infected people with no symptoms of the disease or those with only mild symptoms to stay at home if the number of infections spreads in a certain area. In the future, the ministry should quickly present clear guidelines and concrete guidance without leaving decisions up to local bodies.


The ministry also needs to list up the facilities that can accepted COVID-19 patients. We hope that officials will also start thinking about efficient use of facilities prepared for the 2020 Olympics Games, such as the athletes’ village. The “Osaka approach,” in which places where people are hospitalized or accommodated are decided on based on the levels of their need for medical care, could also serve as a useful reference.


If there are many people who believe that the virus is not going to affect them, then Japan could see a collapse of the medical system like the situations seen in Italy and New York. Japan has held out so far, so we hope that everyone, from the elderly to the young, will avoid the three dangers that put people at a higher risk of infection — enclosed spaces without appropriate ventilation, having many people within an arm’s length, and vocalization in proximity to another person — and support Japan’s medical system.

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