The government team on combating the novel coronavirus has proposed hospital bed occupancy as a key indicator that should be monitored to judge the need for issuing another state of emergency.
The subcommittee of a government specialist panel on Friday proposed categorizing the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic into four stages.
It laid out six indicators for use by the central and prefectural governments to determine that the epidemic is in stage 3 or higher. Stage 4, the worst of the four, would theoretically require a state of emergency declaration by the central government.
The six indicators are scarcity of hospital beds, number of patients and other virus carriers, rate of positive results in polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, number of newly confirmed infections, comparisons between the current and previous weeks and proportion of coronavirus cases for which infection routes are unknown.
The state of the epidemic should be assessed as stage 4 if indicators reach certain levels, including 50 percent for the occupancy rate of hospital beds that can be secured for infected people, the subcommittee said.
The thresholds should be 10 percent for the rate of positive PCR test results, 25 per 100,000 people for the number of hospitalized patients and carriers staying at designated hotels or their own homes, and 25 per 100,000 people for the weekly number of newly confirmed infections, the team said.
Stage 4 means that an explosive spread of infections has occurred, raising concerns about an imminent medical system collapse and a spike in deaths.
"Theoretically, it's the period when a state of emergency should be declared," Shigeru Omi, who chairs the subcommittee, told a news conference.
During stage 4, citizens would be asked not to travel, business suspension requests would be issued to a variety of sectors, schools would be shut temporarily, and temporary medical facilities would be set up, he said.
Regarding stage 3, Omi proposed requests for business suspensions for eating and drinking establishments that do not follow infection prevention guidelines, as well as reviews of events and for voluntary restrictions on travel to areas with many new infections.
Still, Omi noted that the indicators are merely rough guides.
"Just because one indicator reaches its threshold, we do not automatically move to the next stage," he said. "The central government and prefectures should make their decisions in a comprehensive fashion."
Economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who is in charge of the response to the virus, said the central government will pay special attention to the number of patients with severe symptoms and the occupancy of hospital beds secured for such patients. He stressed that the medical system "is of utmost importance."
The central government said Friday that Osaka, Aichi and Okinawa prefectures all reached the stage 4 thresholds for three of the six indicators while Tokyo hit the levels for two indicators.
As of Wednesday, COVID-19 patients occupied more than 40 percent of hospital beds prepared for them in Tokyo and four other prefectures, according to the health ministry.
The occupancy rate was highest in Okinawa, at 85.1 percent, with 206 of the 242 beds secured by the prefecture in use. The rate stood at 43.6 percent in Saitama Prefecture, 42.9 percent in Tokyo, 51.1 percent in Shiga Prefecture, and 54.9 percent in Fukuoka Prefecture.
A week before, the rate stood above 40 percent in only two prefectures — Saitama, at 40.4 percent, and Osaka, at 42.5 percent.
As of Wednesday, the occupancy rate for hospital beds for severely ill COVID-19 patients stood at 3.1 percent in Saitama, 5.5 percent in Tokyo, 18.3 percent in Fukuoka and 20.0 percent in Okinawa.
The number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients as of Wednesday grew by 1,082 from a week earlier to 5,116 across the nation, with 117 of them in serious condition, up by 25.
The nationwide occupancy rate rose to 23.1 percent from 19.9 percent for beds for all COVID-19 patients at hospitals, and to 4.2 percent from 3.5 percent for beds for patients with severe symptoms.
The number of infected people under treatment at accommodation facilities and at home grew by 676 to 1,660 and by about twofold to 3,392, respectively.
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