Most of Japan’s 47 prefectures are likely to run short of intensive care beds for coronavirus patients under a peak scenario drawn up by the government, a Kyodo News study has found.
In 21 prefectures, the number of severe COVID-19 patients would be more than double the ICU beds available, the study found, underscoring how vulnerable the nation’s medical system is amid the pandemic.
Experts urged the government to consider using high care units for less severe patients and increasing the number of medical professionals available to treat COVID-19 patients so as to avoid the collapse of the medical system.
Japan has about 6,000 ICU beds and about 5,000 HCU beds, according to the Japan Medical Association.
Assuming a COVID-19 patient will infect an average of two others with the disease — a scenario based on formulae used by the government — Kyodo on Saturday calculated the number of severely ill patients each prefecture would have at the pandemic’s peak.
It then compared that with the number of ICU beds available as determined by the Japan Medical Association Research Institute.
According to the study, Tokyo would have 903 severe COVID-19 patients against 848 ICU beds, Osaka 666 for 513 beds, and Fukuoka 388 for 327 beds.
Every prefecture except for Okayama and Okinawa would have fewer beds than severely ill patients.
Twenty-one including Hokkaido, Niigata, Saitama and Hiroshima would have more than twice more patients than ICU beds available.
An ICU is a special isolated ward that provides critical care and life support for acutely ill and injured patients. Overseas studies show Japan lags other advanced nations in this category.
According to one study, the United States has about 35 ICU beds per 100,000 people, versus about 29 in Germany, 12 in Italy and five in Japan.
Japan’s daily infection count has been climbing since the government expanded its state of emergency declaration to the entire country on April 16, with hospital beds filling quickly in the Tokyo metropolitan area and elsewhere.
St. Marianna University School of Medicine Hospital in adjacent Kawasaki said all 15 ICU beds are filled with new patients almost as soon as others leave.
Shigeki Fujitani, a professor of emergency medicine at the hospital, said doctors may in the near future be forced to decide who gets life-saving treatment and who doesn’t if the situation deteriorates further.
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