The Defense Ministry has put a time limit of about one week on many types of assistance that Self-Defense Forces personnel are providing to mildly symptomatic coronavirus patients staying in designated accommodation facilities.
The duration of such activities, carried out at the request of local authorities, is usually not set beforehand. But the ministry judged that SDF members are not needed to provide “living assistance,” such as transporting meals to designated locations without coming into contact with coronavirus patients, if thorough infection prevention measures are in place.
The ministry also aims to establish a division of roles after the SDF has provided the initial responses. This would be along the lines of transferring its know-how on putting on and taking off protective suits to local and private sector officials.
“The SDF will engage in initial activities, including living assistance and logistics support, and switch tasks smoothly after a week,” Defense Minister Taro Kono said.
By getting local governments and private companies to do what they can, the ministry aims to set aside some SDF resources to prepare for the possibility of an explosive rise in coronavirus cases or a large-scale natural disaster.
Since early this month, the SDF has received requests for disaster relief missions to deal with coronavirus outbreaks from Tokyo and other prefectures across the country, including Hokkaido, Miyagi, Saitama, Kanagawa, Hyogo, Kochi and Fukuoka.
The SDF has completed most of its missions to provide living assistance to patients with no or mild symptoms staying at hotels and other accommodation facilities in about a week.
During the missions, SDF members instructed local officials on how to put on and take off medical gowns, caps and gloves while preventing infections.
In addition, the SDF provided related know-how as hygiene education support to officials in the Osaka and Okayama prefectural governments and other local authorities as well as workers at private accommodation facilities.
Hotels accepting coronavirus patients do not have employees engage in living support operations in many cases due to safety reasons, so local officials are tasked with such operations day and night.
“Limited activity periods were a condition for the SDF side at the arrangement stage before we made a request for disaster relief missions,” one local government official said.
“Local government workers, who usually do desk work, will suddenly have to deal with situations in protective suits,” the official said. “The SDF should support us flexibly even after mission periods end, because infection risks remain.”
A senior ministry official said: “We work closely with local authorities. Extensions of mission periods and mission relaunches are possible if requests are made.”