Expand overnight patient lodgings to deal with 5th wave of infections

Novel coronavirus infections have been spreading at an unprecedented pace, with the fifth wave swelling to the largest yet seen. To provide appropriate medical care to the rapidly increasing number of patients, there is an urgent need to rebuild the system to deal with the pandemic.

The number of daily new infection cases in Tokyo has exceeded 5,000. The nationwide number exceeded 15,000 for the first time, and the government has decided to add eight prefectures, including Fukushima and Kumamoto, to the list of areas where less strict priority measures against the spread of the virus will be applied.

This is a critical phase in which the number of infected people is increasing explosively. Nevertheless, the government’s response has been inconsistent.

The government recently announced a new policy to basically require patients, other than those who are seriously ill and those at a high risk of developing severe symptoms, to recuperate at home. However, the new policy caused confusion in local governments and at medical institutions. As a result, the government was forced to revise the policy and also allow patients with moderate symptoms to be hospitalized in principle.

The move may have been aimed at avoiding a situation in which the availability of hospital beds for coronavirus patients becomes tighter. However, it seems that many people saw it as an attempt to “discard” patients, partly due to a lack of explanation by the government.

There are problems with patients recuperating at home. There is a risk of infections spreading in the household. For patients who live alone, it is difficult to deal with a sudden change in their physical condition. The government’s basic stance of quarantining coronavirus patients should not be changed.

Even when patients must recuperate at home, it is important to establish a system in which they can enter hotels or other overnight medical care facilities immediately if they wish to do so.

The Osaka prefectural government intends to increase the number of such overnight medical care facilities and make active use of them, reflecting on the fact that a number of patients died at home in the fourth wave of infections this spring.

The Tokyo metropolitan government also has secured 6,000 rooms at such facilities, but only 30% of them are being used because it takes time to disinfect the rooms and there are not enough full-time nurses to take care of patients there, according to the metropolitan government. It should take steps to make effective use of the vacant rooms.

The central government needs to strengthen the medical care system at overnight accommodation facilities, through such measures as securing nurses and visiting doctors.

It is hoped that local medical associations will take the initiative in dealing with patients who are recuperating at home. In some areas, pharmacists deliver to patients’ houses antipyretics and other medicines prescribed by doctors, and also provide them with telephone consultation services.

To detect infected people at an early stage, the Kanagawa prefectural government is sending simple test kits for free to some people who wish to check for infection on their own.

It is advisable that the central government implement concrete steps using these measures as a reference.

Due to the spread of the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus, a rapid increase in the number of patients was expected. However, the central government has merely relied on calling on people to get vaccinated and to exercise restraint in their social activities. Therefore, it must be said that the government has failed to sufficiently prepare for the explosive spread of coronavirus infections.

It seems that the actual situation on the front lines of local governments and medical institutions is not properly understood by the central government. The central government needs to closely exchange information with local governments and medical associations and make utmost efforts to contain the fifth wave of infections.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Aug. 7, 2021.