• Kyodo, staff report


At least 15,058 people were on waiting lists for a hospital or designated accommodation after testing positive for the novel coronavirus earlier this month in the 11 prefectures covered by a state of emergency, a Kyodo News survey has found, as public health centers have been swamped with a surge in cases.

A growing number of patients on waiting lists have died at home.

The number waiting as of last Tuesday marks a sharp increase from a month earlier, including in Tokyo, where it almost quintupled. Local public health centers are tasked with arranging hospitalization or accommodation for people infected with the virus.

But as the number of newly infected people has been rising sharply since November, the arrangements have been taking longer, and more infected people have been forced to wait at home amid bed shortages — with some dying at home.

The survey showed that Tokyo had the most infected people waiting to be hospitalized or accommodated at other facilities among the 11 prefectures, jumping by a factor of 4.8 from 1,563, as of Dec. 19, to 7,539. Hyogo Prefecture has seen its number increase by a factor of 5.8 to 727 people.

Every prefecture has seen a similar rise. Two of Tokyo’s neighboring prefectures — Saitama and Chiba — had 1,169 and 2,328, respectively, while there were 1,410 in Osaka.

Some local governments have tallied those who need to be hospitalized but are forced to stay at home because of bed shortages, with 96 such cases in Kanagawa Prefecture and 20 such cases in Aichi Prefecture.

Chiba and Kanagawa said their scheduling struggle is due to “pressing hospital bed shortages,” while Tochigi Prefecture said that designated hotels cannot welcome patients round-the-clock since it takes time to disinfect the facilities each time patients arrive or depart. As a result, some patients end up with nowhere to go.

Local governments have been trying to boost the number of hospital beds in anticipation of rising numbers of patients.

But the pace of increase in new cases has far outpaced projections. Tokyo had anticipated the daily number of new COVID-19 cases would peak at about 500, while Osaka predicted about 160 cases.

However, Tokyo logged a record 2,447 cases on Jan. 7 and Osaka reported a record 654 cases on Jan. 8.

“We didn’t think the number would be that high,” said an official at Osaka Prefectural Government. The prefecture had boosted the number of hospital beds, but the official admitted that the plan had failed.

As most COVID-19 patients are treated at public-run hospitals, the government is hoping that more private hospitals will take in COVID-19 patients.

But many small and mid-sized hospitals are either not equipped to treat COVID-19 patients or do not have enough staff, experts say.

Amid a resurgence of infections, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declared a monthlong state of emergency on Jan. 7 for the capital and three neighboring prefectures, later expanding it to seven other prefectures.

Under the state of emergency, people have been urged to refrain from going out unnecessarily, while restaurants have been asked to shorten their hours.

Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister leading the government’s coronavirus measures, told a meeting of the Lower House Budget Committee on Monday that the government would make “a comprehensive judgement” when deciding to lift the state of emergency, currently set to run until Feb. 7.

Attention is focused on whether the government will extend the measure beyond its scheduled end.

Tokyo reported 618 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, more than two weeks into the state of emergency, which was the lowest daily figure since the capital confirmed 481 infections on Dec. 28.

Monday’s total comes after the capital ended a streak of 12 consecutive days with over 1,000 cases a day on Sunday.

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