Although the spread of the novel coronavirus has slowed, it is not known when it will surge again. It is important to maintain a sense of urgency and make ready a medical system that can respond promptly to a sixth wave of infections.
The government has announced an outline of new coronavirus countermeasures. To respond to a possible variant twice as strong as the one that hit during the fifth wave this summer, the plan calls for hospital capacity to be increased by 20% compared to this summer by expanding the number of hospital beds and setting up temporary medical facilities.
The government will monitor the use of hospital beds nationwide, with the aim of having more than 80% in use.
Government-affiliated hospitals will be required to secure beds for COVID-19 treatment, and prefectural governments will be asked to formulate new plans. The government will finalize the measures in early November before making an official announcement.
In some countries, even after vaccinations were carried out and infections subsided, the disease surged anew a few months later. Now that infections have settled down in Japan, it is time to become well prepared for a new surge.
Even if enough hospital beds are secured, they will be of no use without sufficient staff. It is essential to secure doctors and nurses. The central and local governments must quickly create an environment in which needed medical personnel can be deployed in times of crisis by requesting that all hospitals dispatch medical staff as necessary.
During the fifth wave, there was a sharp increase in seriously ill COVID-19 patients who needed to special care, leaving a number of hospitals unable to operate at full capacity due to a shortage of nurses.
The Japanese Society of Intensive Care Medicine has proposed that doctors and nurses who generally do not treat seriously ill patients be trained in ventilator operation and other matters, giving them the certification to treat such patients when needed.
In Osaka Prefecture, the Osaka Nursing Association fully cooperated in dispatching nurses to accommodation facilities for COVID-19 patients by, for example, urging nurses who had left their jobs to raise children to return for the task. The government should use such examples as a reference in its effort to secure human resources.
The Tokyo metropolitan government, in cooperation with the Tokyo Medical Association, has posted on its website a map of hospitals and clinics that provide COVID-19 care. A system must be established in which patients can be treated in their neighborhoods and, if necessary, receive intravenous drip treatment that prevents them from becoming seriously ill.
A survey has shown that one in four people infected with the novel coronavirus suffers from aftereffects six months later. It is important to enhance outpatient clinics and hospitals that specialize in treating long COVID. First and foremost, those who have not yet received the vaccination should consider getting it to prevent getting infected.
The Tokyo metropolitan and Osaka prefectural governments will soon lift all requests for restaurants and bars to shorten their business hours. In order for people to go about their daily lives with peace of mind, measures must not be eased during the campaign period of the House of Representatives election.
— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Oct. 23, 2021.