• Jiji, Kyodo

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As Osaka Prefecture's medical system creaks under the strain of a rapid rise in COVID-19 cases, people being treated at home are dying before they can be sent to hospitals.

Eight coronavirus patients have died at home since March in the prefecture, officials said Wednesday.

Of the eight patients, five were being treated at home, two were waiting to be sent to hotels designated as facilities for coronavirus patients and one was waiting for authorities to find a place for them to receive medical care, the officials said.

Coronavirus patients are having a hard time finding hospital beds in Osaka, as beds for severely ill patients are almost full and more than 85% of the beds for patients with light to moderate symptoms are effectively in use.

As of Tuesday, about 8,500 patients were being treated at home and 2,500 were looking for a medical facility in order to receive treatment.

"The prefecture's administrative functions in allocating people to hospitals aren't working," a hospital worker said.

A growing number of patients who have a coronavirus variant have seen their conditions worsen suddenly, a prefectural official said.

The prefecture on Thursday established "a waiting facility" in the city of Osaka where people taken by ambulances can be placed until a hospital is found.

At times, patients in ambulances have had to wait for several hours before they can be admitted to hospitals. The prefecture hopes that by setting up a waiting facility, more ambulances can be dispatched for people in need, officials said.

In Kobe, a male coronavirus patient in his 40s was found dead at home on Tuesday night. He was waiting to be admitted to a hospital.

Hyogo Prefecture is also having difficulty securing hospital beds for new COVID-19 patients, with 1,100 people on its waiting list.

"We wanted to have (the man) hospitalized, but there were people with more serious conditions who couldn't be admitted to hospitals," a Kobe city official said. "Every day, we have to choose lives for hospitals. We don't want to do it, but that's the situation now."

On Wednesday, the health ministry said that 505 new cases of highly contagious coronavirus variants were reported in the week to Tuesday, nearly double the number reported in the previous seven days.

Adding to the 255 cases reported in the previous week, the cumulative number of people in Japan infected with variants of the virus now stands at 1,880, including those quarantined at airports, the ministry said.

According to a health ministry panel of experts, coronavirus variants account for about 80% of infections in Osaka and Hyogo prefectures, as well as a rapidly growing share of cases in Tokyo.

The government is also monitoring the N501Y mutation of the coronavirus, which is more transmissible than the ancestral strain and is present in the British, South African and Brazilian variants.

The vast majority of variant cases reported in Japan are of the British strain, which accounts for 1,562 cases of the total confirmed to date.

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