Hospitals in Japan close to collapse as serious Covid cases soar

21-Jan-2021 Intellasia | TheGuardian | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Hospitals in Covid-hit regions of Japan are on the brink of collapse, medical experts have warned, as the country battles a third wave of infections that has caused record numbers of people to fall seriously ill.

Japan reported more than 4,900 coronavirus infections on Monday, with serious cases rising to a record high of 973, local media reported.

Although Japan has avoided the huge caseloads and death tolls seen in some other countries, infections have doubled over the past six weeks to about 338,000, according to the public broadcaster NHK, with 4,623 deaths.

The increase, coupled with the discovery of the first recorded community transmissions of a fast-spreading strain of Covid-19 initially identified in Britain, is adding to pressure on the prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, to move quickly to protect stretched medical services.

“What is important is to provide necessary services to people in need. We will exhaust all measures to safeguard the medical system,” Suga said in a policy speech this week, adding that the government was ready to deploy military medical teams to regions struggling to cope with an influx of Covid patients.

Suga, whose handling of the pandemic has caused his approval rating to plummet, declared a month-long state of emergency in the greater Tokyo area on 7 January that was quickly expanded to cover half the country’s 126 million people.

But his own advisers have warned the measures, which include asking bars and restaurants to close early and people to avoid non-essential outings, are unlikely to have much effect.

Shigeru Omi, the head of the government’s subcommittee on the pandemic, said they would need to be in place for longer than a month, while the president of the Japan Medical Association, Toshio Nakagawa, said Suga should consider bringing the entire country under a state of emergency.

Nakagawa was also dismissive of government plans to offer subsidies to hospitals that free up more beds for Covid patients. “There aren’t enough doctors or nurses,” he said. “Even if hospitals are told to increase the number of beds, what can’t be done, can’t be done. If the number of infection cases keeps rising, the healthcare system could be wiped out.”

The rise in the number of seriously ill patients is forcing doctors to make tough decisions on who to prioritise for treatment.

With the number of deaths projected to exceed 5,000 by the end of the month, some hospitals are reporting a shortage of ventilators and other equipment used to treat patients with severe symptoms.

“They are waiting for the end of their lives without ventilators after available drugs failed to turn around their condition,” Hideaki Oka, a professor of infectious disease at the Saitama Medical Centre near Tokyo, told the Asahi Shimbun newspaper.

“As far as seriously ill Covid-19 patients are concerned, hospitals have already lost the ability to treat them all,” he said. “Fatalities could rise sharply in the days ahead.”

Daisuke Kurai, an associate professor of infectious diseases at Kyorin University hospital in Tokyo, said the Covid surge was making it increasingly difficult to attend to patients with other serious illnesses. “The medical care system is already in a state of collapse,” he told the Kyodo news agency.

More than 30,000 people with no or mild Covid symptoms have been asked to recuperate at home as more hospitals near capacity. As of last weekend, 14,806 people were being treated in hospital, while a further 7,781 were staying at specially designated hotels and other accommodations, Kyodo said.

Hospital bed occupancy in 19 of Japan’s 47 prefectures has reached stage 4 the most critical level with the highest numbers concentrated in Tokyo and other urban centres.

Three people, all from Shizuoka prefecture south-east of Tokyo, found to have been infected with the more transmissible mutation of Covid-19 had no recent history of travel to the UK or contact with travellers from abroad, media reports said.

With six months to go until the Olympics are due to open in Tokyo, Japan has detected 45 cases of new Covid variants first identified in Britain, South Africa and Brazil.

“We are currently investigating whether the infection is spreading in the region,” said Takaji Wakita, the head of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jan/19/hospitals-japan-close-collapse-serious-covid-cases-soar

 

Category: Japan

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