Osaka – An explosion of coronavirus cases in Osaka Prefecture is overwhelming medical resources, with hospitals forced to turn away patients who, in some cases, then had to spend hours in an ambulance before they could finally be admitted.
The number of severely ill patients in the prefecture as of Wednesday was equivalent to 141% of available hospital beds for such cases. The same day, a record 1,260 infections were reported, along with 14 deaths.
On Thursday, Osaka reported 1,171 new cases and a record 44 deaths.
Concerned about Osaka's worsening situation, the governors of Tokyo and Aichi have pitched a new idea — they are willing to accept moderately ill Osaka coronavirus patients transferred by helicopter to their hospitals.
While Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura has suggested that probably won’t be feasible, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike and Aichi Gov. Hideaki Omura said they would respond positively if such a call came from Osaka to help ease the burden on local hospitals.
In Tokyo, Koike told reporters Wednesday that one possibility was to have up to around 10 Osaka patients flown to the Tama Medical Center, which has a heliport.
“The Tokyo Fire Department's emergency helicopter can arrive in Osaka within three hours from the moment the request is made, and can transport a patient back to Tokyo in two hours,” Koike told reporters Wednesday. “At the moment, we are discussing among ourselves what to do about oxygen supplies, how many people can be transported lying down or sitting, and other practical matters.”
That offer came after Omura said Tuesday that if Osaka requested, then Aichi Prefecture would also discuss accepting coronavirus patients from the prefecture.
“We want to cooperate with Osaka by offering beds for moderately ill patients if we get a detailed request from Osaka for assistance,” Omura told reporters.
Noting the logistical problems of transporting patients by helicopter between Osaka and Tokyo or Aichi, Yoshimura has instead called on other prefectures to dispatch nurses.
“If nurses can come to Osaka hospitals, we can increase the number of hospital beds. While I’m grateful for the suggestion to receive coronavirus patients, having nurses come to Osaka hospitals would be more helpful than transporting patients by air,” Yoshimura said Tuesday.
The situation in Osaka is becoming more dire with each passing day. According to the Osaka Municipal Fire Department, which is in charge of ambulances, there were 47 instances out of about 2,600 medical emergency cases between April 19 and Sunday where ambulances were forced to wait at least six hours before they could find a hospital that would accept the patient, double the number from the previous week, Kyodo reported Wednesday.
In one case, the fire department said it took 46 hours and 53 minutes, with first responders staying with the patient to administer oxygen.
The prefecture has encouraged people who are feeling ill to stay at home and seek medical advice online if possible. As of Wednesday, 11,439 people in Osaka were recuperating from various illnesses at home rather than in hospital. The number of those who might be sick with coronavirus is unknown.
Osaka’s neighboring prefectures are also limited in how much medical assistance they can provide due to their own worsening coronavirus situations. Hospital beds for coronavirus patients in Hyogo Prefecture were 78% full as of Wednesday. In Kyoto, about 60% of those beds were occupied as of Tuesday.
In Nara Prefecture, which has far fewer medical facilities than Osaka, Hyogo or Kyoto prefectures, 74% of available hospital beds for coronavirus patients were occupied as of Wednesday.
All three prefectures have warned their residents to stay indoors whenever possible and to avoid trips to Osaka except if absolutely necessary.
On Wednesday, Osaka's Yoshimura called on all residents to avoid going outdoors due to the overburdened medical system, saying that the next week or so was critical. Many leisure facilities, restaurants and bars will be closed to reduce the number of cases.
“The (spread of the) coronavirus variant has become particularly serious among the younger generations,”has become particularly serious among the younger generations,” Yoshimura said. "We face a particularly severe situation with a hospital bed shortage during the Golden Week holiday period, and I ask that everyone refrain from visiting the surrounding prefectures for their vacations."
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