Tokyo began transferring a handful of coronavirus patients with mild or no symptoms to a hotel Tuesday as the capital prepares additional measures to be executed in tandem with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s declaration of a state of emergency.
As hospitals in Tokyo continue to strain under the growing weight of the novel coronavirus epidemic, patients with mild or no symptoms began relocating to a Toyoko Inn, a 14-story hotel with 240 rooms located in the city’s Chuo Ward.
Officials from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government said around 10 patients will be transferred on the first day, while around 100 individuals will eventually be housed in individual rooms in the building’s top eight floors.
Officials say the patients are expected to stay in the hotel for anywhere between a single afternoon and two weeks. Patients are generally confined to their rooms except during meals, when they will take the elevator to the building’s first floor, or during emergencies.
Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike has enlisted the help of the Self-Defense Forces, which sent 10 members to assist hospital staff and nurses in providing meals, health care and other services for the patients.
As Tokyo races to secure hospital beds faster than the virus spreads, officials say the hotel is a test for ways the city can ease the burden on its own health care system.
On Monday, Koike announced a series of emergency measures that will take effect following the prime minister’s declaration of a state of emergency, which will continue for about a month.
The capital’s measures include asking residents once again to isolate themselves and avoid nonessential outings, as well as a supplementary budget and the establishment of a call center to answer the questions and concerns of residents and local businesses.
Abe said a state of emergency would cover Tokyo and its three neighboring prefectures — Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba — as well as Osaka, Hyogo and Fukuoka prefectures.
“It’s not just Tokyo,” Koike said during a news conference Monday night. “With the country’s support and a coalition of this city and its three surrounding prefectures, we can now move as one in our efforts to prevent the virus from spreading further.”
While the declaration of a national emergency gives governors greater authority when requesting action from residents and businesses, Koike insisted that this was “not a lockdown.”
The supplementary budget announced Monday allocated ¥23.2 billion to efforts to bolster hospital testing and treatment capacity, as well as aid for schools still under closure and residents who have lost their jobs or homes due to the coronavirus.
Koike said residents can still go to grocery stores, pharmacies and hospitals, and that only nonessential trips should be avoided.
According to officials, facilities subject to closure include cram schools, sports gyms, theaters, museums, barbershops, libraries, department stores, shopping malls, nightclubs, bars, karaoke bars, pachinko parlors and driving schools.
But while governors can call on individuals to isolate themselves or ask businesses to temporarily close, they do not have the legal authority to compel them to do so or impose punishment if they disobey.
“While there are people who understand the situation, there will be those who don’t, individuals that think this isn’t about them, that the coronavirus won’t affect their lives,” Koike said Monday. “It’s important that those individuals realize that their actions are affecting the people around them.”
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