Amid the spread of the new coronavirus, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he would declare a state of emergency as early as Tuesday. The government must control a rapid increase in the number of patients and stop the collapse of medical services.
The declaration is expected to cover urban areas such as the Tokyo metropolitan area, where hospital beds prepared for patients infected with the virus are gradually being occupied. This is because all such patients, in principle, have been forced to be hospitalized, even if they only have mild symptoms. If the situation is left as is, it will be impossible to secure beds for patients in serious condition, bringing on the risk that lives that could have been saved would be lost.
Although it came belatedly, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has switched its plan so that patients with mild cases will be treated at residential care facilities or at home. This response is surely necessary to maintain the functions of medical services.
The Tokyo metropolitan government plans to temporarily use hotels, where patients with mild cases will be transferred from hospitals. Patients will be treated in the hotel rooms, with meals delivered there. Nurses and public health workers will be stationed to be in charge of patients’ health management.
Some patients may feel uneasy because they cannot even see their families during their recuperation. Local governments are required to pay close attention to the mental and physical care of isolated patients.
For patients with mild symptoms, the central government is also considering using temporary housing facilities constructed for police officers in charge of security for the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. Some private organizations have also offered their facilities for use. The governmental and private sectors should cooperate to secure a sufficient number of rooms in preparation for increases in infection cases.
If these facilities become insufficient in capacity to accommodate all of these patients, more of them will have to be sent home to recuperate, which will make it hard to keep an eye on such patients.
It is essential to establish a system in which patients can keep in touch with doctors or public health workers by phone, email and other means, so that the patients’ condition can regularly be checked.
It is not rare that symptoms rapidly get worse in those infected with the new coronavirus. Local governments must be prepared to accept patients at hospitals when such situations arise.
When patients are treated at home, it cannot be ignored that there is a risk of transmission to family members who care for them. Thorough preventive measures against infection are necessary among family members, such as having the patient remain in a room and not share tableware or towels, as well as making sure to disinfect door knobs.
It is expected that there will be cases in which people living alone will have to recuperate at home. It is desirable to consider support measures to ensure that single-person households do not have difficulties with food and other daily necessities.
Even if the number of hospital beds is secured after patients including those with mild symptoms are successfully transferred to home care or to other specified facilities, it will not be possible to provide sufficient medical care if there is a shortage of medical workers. The medical field has already been exhausted.
Bringing back doctors and nurses who have left the front line may also be an issue to be considered.
— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on April 7, 2020.