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The occupancy of hospital beds for coronavirus patients as of Wednesday rose from a week earlier in 40 of the 47 prefectures, with some medical care systems now on the verge of collapse, according to the health ministry.

In 15 prefectures, the bed occupancy rate topped 25%, which means that the infection situation there has entered the Stage 3 phase, the second-worst level on the four-tier scale gauging the degree of spread of COVID-19.

"Front-line medical workers are placed under increasing pressure," an expert said. "The situation is extremely severe."

An expert panel of the health ministry said that some parts of Hokkaido, the Tokyo metropolitan area, the Kansai region and the Chubu region have started facing difficulties keeping a balance between treating coronavirus patients and providing regular medical services.

"If the current situation continues, it will become impossible to save lives that could have otherwise been saved," the panel warned.

In Hyogo Prefecture, the bed occupancy rate for coronavirus patients jumped 24 percentage points from Nov. 18 to 68%, the highest level across the country, followed by Osaka, at 55%, up 14 points.

The occupancy rate of beds for severely ill coronavirus patients in Osaka surged 21 points to 49%, the second highest in the country after Tokyo, whose rate stood at 50%.

The results indicate that infections are spreading rapidly in Kansai.

The COVID-19 bed occupancy rate rose nine points to 47% in Hokkaido. In the greater Tokyo metropolitan area, the prefectures of Tochigi, Gunma and Chiba saw their respective bed occupancy rates exceed 25% in a week, while in the Chubu region, Shizuoka Prefecture saw the rate increase by 18 points to 38%.

"Medical institutions have been increasing the number of beds (for coronavirus patients) since the first wave of infections in spring," said a member of the central government's subcommittee on coronavirus measures.

"The problem is shortages of human resources," the person added, noting that medical systems have been operated by a limited number of workers.

"People on the front lines are feeling that medical systems have been driven into a corner," the person said.

In the previous survey as of Nov. 18, the bed occupancy rate stood at 25% or higher in nine prefectures — Hokkaido, Saitama, Tokyo, Aichi, Osaka, Hyogo, Nara, Okayama and Okinawa.

Tochigi, Gunma, Chiba, Shizuoka, Nagano and Mie were added to the list in the latest survey.

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