The sixth wave of the pandemic may have crested but the number of COVID-19 patients requiring hospitalization remains high, further straining Japan's health care system and making it hard for some hospitals to continue offering other conventional medical services.

Highlighting that concern, in the week ending Feb. 20, Japan experienced a record 6,064 "difficult emergency transport" cases — defined as incidents where paramedics spent at least 30 minutes bringing a patient to a medical facility and had to make four or more inquiries at hospitals and other medical institutions — according to the Fire and Disaster Management Agency.

That number fell to 5,204 the following week, but it remained over 50% higher than the peak of the country's fifth wave last summer, which was caused by the delta variant.