Medical care systems are on the verge of collapsing in some regions in Japan amid the ongoing surge in the number of novel coronavirus infections.
If the current situation continues in some areas in the northern prefecture of Hokkaido and the Tokyo metropolitan region, there will be a grave impact on the local health care systems and it will become impossible to save lives that could have otherwise been saved, a health ministry panel of experts warned at a meeting Tuesday night.
A member of the panel said, “We can’t say whether we will be able to maintain the current medical treatment systems after two weeks.” There is a “huge gap” in the crisis perception between the government and medical workers on the ground, the member added.
Echoing the panel’s view, Toshio Nakagawa, head of the Japan Medical Association, told a news conference Wednesday that the medical service system “is on the brink of collapsing.” The pace of the increase in infections is particularly fast in Hokkaido, the greater Tokyo area, the Kansai region, including Osaka Prefecture, and the Chubu region, including Aichi Prefecture, he said.
“It’s becoming difficult for medical institutions to treat patients other than those with the coronavirus,” Nakagawa said.
According to the ministry, the occupancy rate for hospital beds for COVID-19 patients exceeded 25 percent in Hokkaido, Tokyo and seven other prefectures as of Nov. 18.
Nine of the country’s 47 prefectures are under a Stage 3 alert for the virus, the second-worst level under the nation’s four-tier warning system.
The expert panel member noted that the spread of the virus is “faster than was expected,” stressing that the situation for hospital beds is changing “from moment to moment.”
“I fear that offering treatment to both coronavirus and other patients at the same time will become more difficult in less than two weeks,” the member said.
On Tuesday, the government said that trips to Sapporo, the capital of Hokkaido, and the city of Osaka will be temporarily excluded from coverage under its Go To Travel tourism subsidy program.
But the panel member said that the review is too late.
The panel’s meeting on Tuesday night took place amid a “grievous atmosphere,” the member said, noting that there were major gaps between the government and medical institutions in their views over the present state of the nation’s medical services.
“Now is the time for the entire nation to consider imposing restrictions on people’s movements and the shortening of business hours at eating and drinking establishments,” the member said. “These measures may not be sufficient, though.”
Another member of the panel said that hospitals cannot easily increase the number of beds and that some medical institutions cannot provide treatment due to manpower shortages even if they have enough beds.
“Medical institutions are in a more serious situation than the government realizes,” the member said.
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