A man infected with the new coronavirus, who was staying at his home in Saitama Prefecture, died on April 21.
The patient, found to be infected with the novel coronavirus on April 16, had been placed on a waiting list for hospitalization because his symptoms were mild, authorities said.
Saitama Governor Motohiro Ono said he will have the case investigated.
Much remains to be learned about the new infectious disease. The authorities should carefully study such issues as whether the patient’s diagnosis was appropriate and what the patient follow-up system was like. They should publish the findings so that people can draw on the lessons in the future.
To ensure hospital beds are available for patients who need to be treated there, many local governments have pushed measures for sending patients with improved conditions to hotels and other facilities or for having those patients remain in their homes.
The health ministry, based on that policy, called on local authorities to conduct regular health checks on such nonhospitalized patients and to ensure they can be taken quickly to a hospital when their conditions worsen.
It is, however, obviously less easy to monitor patients at their homes than those staying in facilities where nurses and other medical workers are stationed.
A panel of experts with the central government said in an analysis and recommendation report that “patients who stay at their homes are expected, in many cases, to face various difficulties.”
Taking into account that cases of infection within a household have been reported, health minister Katsunobu Kato said April 23 that patients with mild symptoms will be sent to accommodation facilities, in principle.
While that could be appropriate, local governments may be facing different circumstances when it comes, for example, to the availability of facilities for accommodating patients. They should enlist the help of relevant industries in speeding up preparations so what occurred in Saitama Prefecture will never be repeated.
Sending patients with mild symptoms to accommodation facilities, of course, does not ensure they are safe. Medical authorities should carefully assess their risk of developing serious symptoms and keep attentive watch over their health conditions.
The assistance of experienced medical workers in the local community is indispensable to conducting follow-up checks on patients staying in such facilities. One local medical association has started sending medical workers to stay, by rotation, at a hotel that accommodates infected patients and to take test samples from the patients.
Similar cooperation measures should be strengthened to reduce the workload of public health centers to the greatest extent possible.
Even in areas where few have been found infected, medical resources could fall into short supply once group infections occur. Officials should take that to heart in dealing with the matter.
For smoothly running a program for patients with mild symptoms to stay outside hospitals, their understanding and cooperation will be key. Despite what the term “mild” evokes in mind, many such patients suffer from fever, difficulty breathing and anxiety.
While some local governments have opened counseling services on social media, there should be a phone-based system that allows citizens to call, whenever they want, to ask for advice and assistance. Authorities should listen to requests and proposals from patients infected with the coronavirus to help improve and expand the operation of their counseling functions.
Some patients may have no choice but to stay at their homes because they have young children or for other reasons. Some have complained they have to do housework and look after their children to the extent their health allows because they have no one to turn to for help.
We cannot afford to look on with folded arms.
Outside Japan, an increasing number of volunteers, for example, are doing the shopping for those who cannot do so themselves. We should refer to such examples in devising and sharing effective ways to prevent infected patients from becoming isolated.