The rapid spread of the coronavirus is putting Japan’s medical system at risk of collapsing.
In all 13 prefectures where state of emergency declarations have been issued, over 50% of hospital beds are occupied, and the areas have hit a Stage 4 emergency level denoting an explosive increase in infections. Half of these hospitals have also reached this level in terms of beds for severely ill patients.
Medical treatment for patients without COVID-19 has been limited as a result, and experts have pointed out that the situation is close to a disaster level. The fact that it is becoming impossible to save lives that could normally be saved is a sad state of affairs.
This spring, prefectural governments secured more beds for coronavirus patients, but due to the spread of highly transmissible virus variants, they have not been able to keep up with the rapid increase in the number of patients. People have accordingly been forced to convalesce at home, and cases in which people died after their conditions deteriorated stood out.
The government should cooperate with local bodies and make every effort to secure temporary beds and accommodation facilities for patients. If such facilities are established, it will become easier to respond to sudden changes in people’s health, and health care workers will be able to efficiently administer new medications intravenously to prevent people from developing severe symptoms. At such facilities, there is no risk of the virus spreading to patients being treated for conditions besides COVID-19.
The Japan Medical Association has recommended that gymnasiums and large-scale event halls be used to create temporary medical facilities for those with moderate symptoms of COVID-19. The government and local bodies must quickly work to give shape to this proposal. It is also essential to provide more accommodation facilities to prevent people from spreading the virus to others at home. In Tokyo, the number of people recuperating at home has topped 20,000, but just 3,000 rooms at such facilities have been secured. This is nowhere near enough.
In providing such facilities, securing medical workers will also be an issue. Prefectural governments need to collaborate with local medical and nursing associations and prepare a cooperative system including workers who have not been involved in COVID-19 treatment to date. The government should also exert its full coordinating power in the dispatch of medical workers across prefectural boundaries.
Enhanced care for medical workers is also essential.
Public health centers are at breaking point as they confirm the symptoms of those who have been infected with the coronavirus and try to find hospitals and accommodation facilities to accept them. Some local bodies have shared the information on patients with local medical associations and organized online consultation systems. We hope that such initiatives can be used as a reference.
In the past, experts repeatedly warned of the possibility of a crunch on the country’s medical system. It would appear the government and local bodies lacked a sense of crisis.
The situation cannot be handled as a mere extension of the normal system and regular operations. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and governors should display leadership and do everything in their power to protect people’s lives.