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The mayor of Hokkaido’s Asahikawa said Monday he has asked the prefectural government to request the dispatch of 10 nurses from the Self-Defense Forces due to a shortage of health care workers attending to severe COVID-19 patients.

Asahikawa, Hokkaido’s second-largest city after Sapporo, has recently seen a series of cluster infections, including at some major hospitals.

A total of 224 cases had been been reported at Asahikawa Kosei General Hospital as of Sunday, making it the largest hospital cluster in the nation, and 184 cases have been confirmed at Keiyukai Medical Foundation Yoshida Hospital.

The city, which has seen 40 deaths of COVID-19 patients so far, has around 60% of its hospital beds for coronavirus patients occupied.

“I want Asahikawa citizens to accept the fact that the city is in a critical situation,” Asahikawa Mayor Masahito Nishikawa said at a news conference.

Also on Monday, Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura told reporters that he has asked Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi to send SDF nurses to a new facility for seriously ill COVID-19 patients that is set to open next week, and that Kishi said his ministry is ready to send several nurses.

In Tokyo, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said in a meeting of government and ruling bloc officials that it is “arranging to dispatch (SDF medical staff) as soon as possible upon requests from local governments.”

Osaka has seen more than 300 daily coronavirus infections for six consecutive days through Sunday, with a record 141 serious patients confirmed as of that day.

The Osaka government has raised its virus alert level from yellow to red, meaning the prefecture is facing an emergency situation, the first since the system was implemented in May, and asked residents to refrain from nonessential outings until Dec. 15.

On Monday, Yoshimura inspected the new medical center designed to accommodate patients showing serious coronavirus symptoms and ease strains on the prefecture’s hospitals.

It will open next Tuesday within the premises of the prefectural government-sponsored Osaka General Medical Center in the city’s Sumiyoshi Ward. The facility has 30 beds equipped with ventilators. It plans to add 30 more beds in the future.

Unable to secure some 130 nurses to provide care for 30 patients at the new facility, the Osaka government has called on the central and other local governments to send some of their health care workers to help. Nara Prefecture said Monday it will send two nurses.

The new facility has secured 20 doctors necessary to start its operation, but still needs about 50 more nurses.

“We hope to widely recruit people who can take care of patients on ventilators,” Yoshimura said.

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