The health ministry and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government have decided to ask hospitals in the capital to secure beds for COVID-19 patients and accept as many of them as possible, as the current surge in infections is outstripping the capacity of the city's medical system.
As the capital has been witnessing record daily coronavirus cases in recent weeks, health minister Norihisa Tamura and Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike held a meeting Monday and decided to take stronger action regarding medical institutions by making the first such request to hospitals by the state under a revised infectious disease law.
Under the law revised in February, the ministry and Tokyo government can expose the names of hospitals that do not have a valid reason, such as lack of medical staff, for not complying with the request to secure beds.
"Infections driven by the delta variant are unlike anything we have seen before," Tamura told reporters after the meeting. "I would like to ask for (the hospitals') help to get through this difficult situation."
Koike said hospitals should consider delaying surgeries for nonurgent patients of other diseases to make more room for COVID-19 patients. "We will do all we can," she said.
In Tokyo, 4,034 COVID-19 patients have been hospitalized as of Monday, which is just about 9% of all COVID-19 patients in the capital.
Tokyo has secured about 6,400 beds for COVID-19 patients, 63% of which are currently in use. The Tokyo government aims to add about 600 hospital beds to raise the total to 7,000 beds available for such patients.
The ministry and the metropolitan government made a joint request for about 400 medical institutions in the capital that already admit coronavirus patients to take in as many COVID-19 patients as possible and secure more beds for such people.
They also requested around 250 hospitals that have not accepted COVID-19 patients, about 13,500 clinics, and medical and nursing schools to send medical personnel to medical institutions suffering staff shortages and accommodation facilities to isolate infected people.
Clinics and universities with medical departments are also asked to cooperate in administering COVID-19 vaccines.
Still, the effect of the latest step remains unclear.
"As many hospitals are already in a difficult situation to proactively accept patients who may become seriously ill, it would be hard to change their policy even if the names of hospitals are made public," said Tetsuya Matsumoto, a professor of infectious diseases at International University of Health and Welfare.
To further relieve strain on hospitals in Tokyo, the metropolitan government on Monday started operating a facility that provides oxygen support to COVID-19 patients with relatively mild symptoms.
The 24-hour oxygen station, set up by the metropolitan government in Shibuya Ward, has 130 beds and is staffed by three doctors and 25 nurses.
It is designed to treat patients who have been asked to recuperate at home but who experience concerns over breathing. Stays are likely to be short-term, such as one or two nights.
Those who feel better after receiving oxygen support will be sent back home, while patients whose symptoms worsen will be considered for admission to a hospital.
As of Sunday, more than 39,000 patients in Tokyo were isolating at home or a facility other than a hospital, underscoring the urgent need to expand the support system in the capital.
Meanwhile, the central government is currently considering whether there is a need to expand a COVID-19 state of emergency to other areas beyond Tokyo and 12 other prefectures, government sources said.
The government's top spokesman Katsunobu Kato said at a news conference Monday that the governors of Aichi, Gifu, Mie and Hokkaido prefectures have asked the central government to declare the emergency in their areas.
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