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Editorial: Reduce hospital burden to deal with surge in severely ill virus patients

  • December 7, 2020
  • , The Japan News , 1:19 p.m.
  • English Press

The rapid spread of the novel coronavirus is further increasing the burden on medical institutions. The government must come up with measures with a sense of urgency to tackle the situation as soon as possible.


According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, about 500 people nationwide are severely ill after becoming infected with the virus. The figure began to soar in November and has reached a level largely exceeding the peak of 328 reported at the end of April.


It is probably because this time infections have spread to a wide range of age groups, including middle-aged and elderly people, while the surge in summer was mainly among young people.


The elderly are at a higher risk of becoming severely ill. Of people infected with the virus in the nation, 0.3% of those aged under 60 become severely ill, while the figure is 8.5% among those aged 60 or older. Close attention must be paid to not spreading the infection among the elderly.


In addition to infections at home, clusters at medical institutions and nursing homes have become more conspicuous. It is important to focus on testing employees and those who use such facilities.


As the number of severely ill patients rises, the burden on front-line medical institutions is increasing.


Intensive care that uses ventilators needs around-the-clock monitoring and requires more staff than normal medical treatment. This spring, there were cases in which hospital beds became scarce, resulting in delays in emergency transportation and deaths while patients recuperated at home.


It is important to establish a system as soon as possible to prevent a situation in which lives that could have been saved are lost.


In some areas, the beds available for severely ill patients are filling up. In Osaka Prefecture, the occupancy rate of hospital beds for severely ill patients exceeds 60%, and Tokyo is also seeing a rise.


If hospital beds are filled, it may hinder the treatment of critically ill patients suffering from other diseases, such as stroke and myocardial infarction. In regions where the medical system is weak, local medical services could become overwhelmed.


The ministry has said that elderly people infected with the virus also should recuperate at accommodation facilities or at home if doctors determine that it is not necessary for them to be hospitalized.


Although this move is inevitable in order to maintain the function of medical services, there are quite a few cases in which a patient’s condition suddenly changes. It is hoped that local governments will establish a system that offers sufficient support.


Every medical institution that has proactively responded to the pandemic has faced deteriorating business conditions, and medical staff including many nurses have quit their jobs.


The government should expedite the implementation of subsidies to key medical institutions, which were earmarked in the supplementary budget, and consider using reserves and other funds. It is important to stabilize hospital management and support the securing of human resources.


In areas of rising infections, it is necessary to further increase the number of medical institutions that can handle virus patients. It is hoped that the central government will work with prefectural governments and others to encourage cooperation from many hospitals and clinics.


— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Dec. 7, 2020.

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