Families raising children in Japan are facing the big question of who will look after their children if both parents become infected with the coronavirus, as options are limited.
While the health ministry allows parents with mild symptoms to recuperate at home, this raises the risk to children and other household members. And if all caregivers are hospitalized, many facilities are unprepared, or hesitant, to take in their children, who may also be infected.
On Wednesday, freelance TV announcer Tamao Akae said she has been hospitalized for pneumonia after becoming infected with the virus.
Her husband had been similarly hospitalized with COVID-19, so she was looking after their two-year-old daughter, who has tested negative for the virus, at home while suffering symptoms including fever and cough. Her husband has since been discharged and is now staying with their daughter.
“I wonder who will look after the children when both parents fall ill simultaneously (from the virus),” she wrote in a message, disclosed previously by a Tokyo radio station when her husband’s infection was confirmed.
Municipalities are already scrambling to deal with such a situation.
Suginami Ward in Tokyo said it had several such cases. While hospitals had accepted children in these circumstances, an official in charge of the matter said, “Things went well, luckily.”
“There is no assurance of this in future cases whatsoever,” the official added.
Child consultation centers in Osaka, Fukuoka and other prefectures are accepting such children but struggle to keep them apart from their peer group.
“If an infection is discovered, we must stop children from entering and leaving the facility,” said a Tokyo child consultation center worker. “It is not easy to take in such children.”
Masaya Yamato, director of Rinku General Medical Center’s Infectious Disease Center in Izumisano, Osaka Prefecture, acknowledged the difficulties involved in making decisions.
“It is hard to weigh the risk of familial infection and the psychological impact of being separated from parents for some time, but it is desirable to separate children (from them) if possible,” he said.
Yamato said staying with their children is an option for infected parents who have only mild symptoms and take measures to prevent passing on the virus, such as wearing face masks and washing hands thoroughly.
He also recommended that parents of children with disabilities or in need of special care consult doctors and medical institutions in advance to prepare for the worst-case scenario.
For home care, the Japanese Society for Infection Prevention and Control advises a patient should be looked after by only one person in each household, and that the room of an infected person should be isolated from others.
Koji Wada, a professor at the International University of Health and Welfare, said that infections easily spread within a family.
“It is hard to lower the infection risk to zero, but people should not give up and should take the measures that they can,” he said.
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