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Concerns are growing over the health care system in Okinawa Prefecture, with new cases of coronavirus infections hitting record highs in recent days.

Amid the virus resurgence, apparently driven by the omicron variant, hundreds of doctors, nurses and other hospital staffers have been unable to go to work as they were found infected with the coronavirus or were deemed close contacts.

Some hospitals are limiting surgeries and hospitalizations.

On Friday, the central government decided to place Okinawa and two other prefectures under a COVID-19 pre-emergency status from Sunday.

According to the prefectural government, the number of medical workers taking a leave of absence rose from around 120 on Wednesday to 220 on Thursday. The number reached 313 at 21 medical institutions on Friday.

Due to manpower shortages, some hospitals are finding it difficult to secure beds for coronavirus patients.

At a private hospital in central Okinawa, 10 of its 21 beds for coronavirus patients are occupied. Around 20 medical workers are absent, forcing six of the hospital's 10 inpatient wards into closure, a situation in which patients cannot be admitted or discharged.

"Infection cases among our staff started increasing late last year. Many got infected at home," an official said.

"If nurses are absent, we can't operate inpatient wards," the official said. "We cannot admit, discharge or transfer patients."

"All hospitals in the central part of the prefecture are finding it difficult to admit new patients," the official continued.

"We are asking patients to move to hospitals in the southern area when emergency hospitalization is necessary," the official said. "To put it bluntly, the medical system is collapsing."

At a private hospital in southern Okinawa, an increasing number of medical workers are absent for COVID-19 treatment or self-quarantine.

"Infection cases have started surging since the beginning of the year," a hospital official said. Some people contracted the virus after dining in groups during the New Year's holiday period, the official said.

"The number of emergency patients is increasing at our hospital because other hospitals are limiting the admission of emergency patients," the official added.

"Surgeries are postponed depending on the level of importance, and those who can wait for hospitalization are asked to do that," the official said.

"The biggest problem is the absence of medical staff," said Hideaki Sasaki, a doctor at the Okinawa Red Cross Hospital and a member of the prefecture's panel of experts to tackle the coronavirus.

The number of absent medical workers is growing by the hour, illustrating how severe the situation is, he told a meeting Friday.

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