Although Japan seems to have largely dodged the COVID-19 bullet, the pandemic has highlighted one of the country's most persistent problems, namely its labor shortage in the health care sector. One aspect of the issue that has received more potent coverage is the need for more nonmedical care workers. Japan is known for its large senior population, and a shortage of help in the elderly care sector has been a burgeoning problem for years. Amid the pandemic, it has been tipping over into catastrophe.

The reasons for the shortage are more complicated than many people believe them to be. Care work, which involves close contact with people who are usually in frail health, is not pleasant by most people's standards, and is also believed to require few technical skills. Consequently, care workers are at the bottom of the health care pyramid in terms of pay and respect.

According to an article posted on Feb. 6, 2019, on Diamond Online, care workers make up 25 percent of the labor force in some hospitals, with nurses accounting for 21 percent and the rest divided among physicians, rehabilitation technicians and administration. As explained by Hideki Nakamura of the caregiving service company Life Care Support, doctors are obviously at the top of the pyramid and care workers form the base.