• Kyodo

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Local governments in Japan are rushing to set up temporary treatment sites for COVID-19 patients as the recent surge in infections causes a serious shortage of hospital beds nationwide, with 25 governments having already opened or planning to open such facilities, a Kyodo News survey has found.

But the nationwide survey, conducted from Aug. 26 to Thursday, also found that most of the governments continue to face difficultues securing doctors and health care workers to operate the sites.

Record levels of COVID-19 cases, triggered by the spread of the coronavirus’ more transmissible delta variant, have outstripped hospital capacities to treat patients in many parts of the country.

Faced with an increasingly overwhelmed health care system, the government of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga advised municipalities in early August to give hospital beds only to those with severe symptoms.

Tokyo and some other large cities have seen a spike in the number of cases where ambulances carrying COVID-19 patients with worsening conditions have been turned away by at-capacity hospitals.

Currently, more than 130,000 COVID-19 patients across the country are recuperating at home.

On Aug. 25, the health ministry asked local governments to establish temporary facilities to look after patients who are unable to find hospital beds.

In addition to the 25 sites already open or being planned, 21 of the 47 prefectural and 20 major city governments surveyed said they are “considering” setting up temporary sites. These include so-called oxygen stations, which have been promoted by the Suga administration, to treat patients who have been asked to recuperate at home but experience concerns over breathing.

In one example, Fukui Prefecture, in central Japan, has converted a gymnasium into a makeshift field hospital, while Ehime Prefecture is renting spaces from hotels to treat COVID-19 patients.

The number of patients showing severe coronavirus symptoms nationwide stood at 2,207 on Sunday, down 16 from the previous day, when the tally marked a record high, according to the health ministry.

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