A doctor of Japanese heritage working to treat COVID-19 patients in New York said Wednesday that Japan should quickly implement measures to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.

"Life in New York was as usual until a month ago, but the infectivity of the novel coronavirus is strong, and the situation can quickly change," Robert Yanagisawa, professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and president of the Japanese Medical Society of America, said in a telephone interview.

He warned that Tokyo and other large cities could see such sudden changes.

The 52-year-old doctor said that the number of COVID-19 patients at the Mount Sinai Health System, affiliated with the medical school, grew by 50 percent in just three days, from 1,000 on Friday last week. COVID-19 patients now occupy half of the 3,000 beds at the system's eight hospitals, and 250 patients are in intensive care units, according to Yanagisawa.

New York has become a COVID-19 hotspot, with a total of more than 83,000 infection cases and more than 1,900 deaths resulting from the virus, which is believed to have originated in China. The United States, where the first COVID-19 case was confirmed on March 1, now has the most coronavirus cases of any country, at more than 210,000.

"It is important to stop the spread (of the coronavirus) through strict calls for avoiding activities and to have risk management plans in preparation for growth in infection cases," Yanagisawa said.

"Realistic plans for how to increase hospital beds, and securing locations and personnel for medical treatment are necessary," the doctor added.

The advice comes as Yanagisawa's own workplace grapples with the heavy burden of caring for an increasing number of coronavirus patients.

"We expect patients to continue increasing, so we have increased special units and set up areas for treatment at the lobby," he said. "If the number of patients, especially those with severe symptoms, soars, it may lead to a collapse in the medical system."

"We are efficiently using our resources through the triage process of determining the priority of treatments, as some patients do not recover even if we resuscitate them," he added.

Yanagisawa said that ventilators at Mount Sinai hospitals are running at 70 percent capacity and that 400 additional ventilators have been acquired. The system also has enough supplies of surgical masks, but doctors and nurses try to reduce the frequency of using new ones, he said.

Surgical operations have been postponed to keep ICU beds available for coronavirus patients, he said.

Yanagisawa also said that it is vital to bring medical professionals who have retired or have left their jobs after childbirth back into the medical system, as part of efforts to make up for the shortage of doctors and nurses.


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