• Chunichi Shimbun


In a residential area near Gifu-Hashima Station, the 10-story Hotel Koyo has been repurposed for COVID-19 patients with mild symptoms.

With the delta variant rampant in the fifth wave of the pandemic, daily cases rose to a record high in August. The hotel eventually became full, and it also had to send patients in a deteriorating condition to nearby hospitals.

Located in the city of Hashima, Gifu Prefecture, the hotel has 285 beds. Each room has a small window, two beds and a bathroom. Patients are required to report their health condition by phone to nurses stationed on-site three times a day. The patients are prohibited from contact with others, and their meals and daily necessities are delivered to their doors.

At the time of reporting, there were 215 patients staying at the hotel. Gifu Prefecture has been aiming to have all COVID-19 patients admitted to either hospitals or repurposed facilities so they won’t be isolating at their home. But after all of the hospitals and facilities became full on Aug. 21, the prefecture had to change course.

At one point, the hotel was hosting 299 patients and their families, with two to six nurses looking after them around the clock.

“When I was busy, I was working until 1 a.m. to accept patients and checking up on them until 4 a.m.,” said Katsunori Kakimi, 40, a nurse who has been dispatched from the Gifu University Hospital. “With the health care system overwhelmed, I’d felt it would be difficult for all the COVID-19 patients to be admitted.”

Before the fifth wave hit, patients at Hotel Koyo were mostly asymptomatic or younger people. But as more people were asked to isolate at home in August, middle-aged patients became the majority. And since the hotel had also been accepting higher risk patients in their 50s, doctors were dispatched to check up on them everyday in the afternoon.

In September, the hotel installed two rooms with oxygen and a negative pressure device so that patients having difficulty breathing could be treated.

At other repurposed facilities in Gifu during the fifth wave, there were numerous cases in which the condition of previously asymptomatic patients deteriorated quickly, leading to them being rushed to a hospital.

“Nurses got calls at midnight from patients saying they couldn’t breathe. They were constantly on alert,” said Ichiro Kato, a prefectural official in charge of running repurposed facilities.

The prefectural government has been repurposing more hotels so that all COVID-19 patients can be admitted to either a hospital or one of those facilities. As of the end of August, there were more than 1,000 rooms in eight facilities ready to admit patients with milder symptoms — but that wasn’t enough.

“We were aiming to avoid any of the patients needing to recuperate at home, but we weren’t able to maintain that policy. We felt defeated,” said Kato.

As the number of new daily cases continues to decline in September, Gifu is now on course to achieve its goal once again, with all new patients being admitted to a medical facility.

Still, Kato is looking ahead, preparing for the next wave.

“We need to make sure we have enough rooms available, on the assumption that we would need to look after patients who may suffer severe symptoms.”

At Hotel Koyo, a hotel in Gifu Prefecture repurposed for COVID-19 patients, nurses are stationed on-site around the clock to check on the patients. | CHUNICHI SHIMBUN
At Hotel Koyo, a hotel in Gifu Prefecture repurposed for COVID-19 patients, nurses are stationed on-site around the clock to check on the patients. | CHUNICHI SHIMBUN

As fifth wave swept Gifu, more COVID-19 patients were forced to isolate at home

When Gifu Prefecture’s health care system became overwhelmed on Aug. 21, the prefecture was forced to ask COVID-19 patients with milder symptoms to isolate at their homes — a shift from its previous policy of admitting all patients to either a hospital or a repurposed facility.

Just a few days later, the number of such patients topped 900.

Until then, the prefecture had treated asymptomatic patients and those with only mild COVID-19 symptoms at repurposed facilities, and high-risk patients or those with severe symptoms at hospitals.

But after the number of daily new cases topped 300 for the fifth straight day on Aug. 21, the facilities became full, forcing low-risk and younger patients to stay at home.

On Aug. 21, 74 COVID-19 patients were isolating at home. But the number rapidly increased, topping 500 on Aug. 25 and exceeding 900 on Aug. 28.

Alarmed, the prefecture, municipal authorities in the city of Gifu and the local nursing association set up a support team composed of smaller groups assigned specific tasks, such as keeping tabs on patients’ health conditions and delivering food and other daily necessities to their homes.

The team had 38 members at first but quickly grew to a roster of 71 as the number of patients rose.

As of Sept. 1, 32 patients isolating at home have been transported to repurposed facilities or hospitals after their condition worsened. Around-the-clock consultation and support as well as daily health checks were key to detecting which patients would need urgent medical attention.

“If the number of patients increases, it’s going to be difficult to ask just the low-risk patients to stay at home,” said a prefectural official. “If the hospital beds are all occupied, we won’t be able to transfer deteriorating patients at home and hotels there.”

This section features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original articles were published Sept. 14. and Sept. 2.

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