Japan local govts taking forward-thinking approach to COVID-19-related services

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A store clerk prepares Tokujo Sukiyaki-ju lunch boxes in a department store in Kashiwa, Chiba Prefecture on Feb. 9. The meals were set to be delivered to COVID-19 patients recuperating at designated accommodation facilities in the city.

The number of people recuperating at government-designated accommodation facilities has soared during the sixth wave of the novel coronavirus.

In response to this increase, those infected are being offered an array of services, including the provision of luxury lunch boxes made by famous caterers, and rooms where families can stay together.

These kinds of services are aimed at alleviating the stress of convalescents staying in isolated locations, where movement is restricted. One expert has called on local governments to share relevant information to allow such endeavors to spread further.

Gourmet cuisine

Lunch boxes featuring pieces of sweet-flavored Kuroge Wagyu — Japanese black beef — arranged atop white rice were handed out at a government-designated accommodation facility in Kashiwa, Chiba Prefecture, on Feb. 9. The lunch boxes, named “Tokujo Sukiyaki-ju” (Stacked boxes of fine sukiyaki), were prepared by Ningyocho Imahan Co., a long-established beef hot-pot restaurant operator and caterer of Japanese cuisine.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A hotel room in Fuefuki, Yamanashi Prefecture, that allows COVID-19 patients to recuperate with family members is seen on Jan. 26.

On the day, Kashiwa’s city government began providing a Wednesday service in which bento boxes crafted by noted restaurants or caterers are distributed as lunches to people recuperating at designated locations.

“We hope the meals will provide recuperating patients with a mental diversion, even if it’s only once a week,” said Kashiwa Mayor Kazumi Ota.

The Tokyo metropolitan government has also been offering a popular lunch box once a week since mid-January. A male company employee in his 40s who recuperated at a hotel in Shinjuku Ward recalled: “I was staying in a small room with the window closed; my sole diversion was the meals. When ekiben [a prepared meal traditionally sold at stations and on trains] featuring beef tongue was available, I’d be first in the line.”

Nagano’s prefectural government also is offering ekiben prepared by local caterers to people recuperating at designated facilities — partly to help support businesses whose sales have declined amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Responding to different tastes

For reasons of hygiene, most recuperative facilities forbid people bringing food from home, or having it delivered. The city government of Chiba, however, permits food deliveries from companies such as Uber Eats, provided that patients settle payments online in advance.

Convalescents are provided with three meals per day, free of charge. A municipal government official said, “We’ve tried to take into consideration people who may need larger meals than we can provide, and well as foreigners who may not find some meals to their taste.”

Recuperating together

The spread of infection within families has also posed a challenge in the sixth wave of the virus.

On Jan. 28, Yamanashi’s prefectural government made about 70 special rooms available — ranging in size from 31 to 55 square meters — at resort hotels in Fuefuki in the prefecture. Here, married couples or parents and their children can stay together to recuperate from COVID-19.

This is a somewhat unusual service, as most people are usually only provided with a single, separate room. More than 10 groups have already used the new service. A prefectural government official said, “We hope even parents with small children can recuperate with peace of mind.”

According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, there were 21,843 people staying in designated accommodation facilities across the country as of Feb. 9. Although new infection cases during the sixth wave may be close to peaking, it is vital to prepare for the next wave.

Tetsuya Yamamoto, an associate professor in clinical psychology at Tokushima University said: “Supportive measures are important to help alleviate stress and feelings of isolation among convalescents. I hope local governments can share information to facilitate the provision of services tailored to the needs of local communities.”