Step up medical response to pandemic to reduce recuperation at home

David Mareuil/Pool via REUTERS
Medical workers talk with people at a mass vaccination coronavirus disease (COVID-19) site in Tokyo, Japan June 9, 2021.

The explosive rise in novel coronavirus infections is continuing. The government must take the lead and make all-out efforts to prevent the virus’ spread in coordination with local governments and medical professionals.

The so-called fifth wave of infections has spread from the Tokyo metropolitan area to other parts of the country, with the number of seriously ill COVID-19 patients hitting record highs on consecutive days. The number of people recuperating at home as they cannot find a hospital that will accept them has soared, and COVID-19 patients have died at home one after another.

A government subcommittee on COVID-19 measures has announced a proposal seeking cooperation from medical institutions that have not yet been involved in treating COVID-19 patients. The panel also called for foot traffic to be halved from early-July levels in Tokyo and other areas where the number of infections has increased.

Although experts have described the situation as being at a “disaster level” and “out of control,” positive effects cannot be generated merely by asking people to refrain from going out. If the situation is at a disaster level, it is necessary to build a health care system that is suitable for such a level.

It is an urgent task to prevent a shortage of hospital beds and ensure patients receive appropriate medical care. In cases of recuperation at home, it is difficult to deal with sudden changes in the patient’s condition, and the virus could be transmitted to family members and others. Infected people should be quarantined, in principle.

Efforts must be made to improve and set up more accommodations for COVID-19 patients at hotels and other locations and establish temporary medical facilities as soon as possible.

The Fukui prefectural government is preparing to use a gymnasium as a temporary medical facility with 100 beds. It plans to secure necessary medical staff with cooperation from local medical and nursing associations as well as hospitals to run the facility at a time of emergency.

As setting up the facility in a gymnasium enables an unobstructed view of the entire space, it can reportedly be managed by a smaller medical staff than conventional accommodations for COVID-19 patients. Such a facility is likely to serve as a reference for other local governments.

It is crucial for medical institutions to strive to secure more hospital beds.

The revised Infectious Diseases Law stipulates that the health, labor and welfare minister and prefectural governors can seek cooperation from medical institutions and make recommendations to them. The central and prefectural governments must not hesitate to take such action based on the law if they find it necessary.

In Kanagawa and Okinawa prefectures, doctors, nurses and other members from a disaster medical assistance team dispatched by the health ministry have been working on the front lines. It is important to establish a system that will enable medical workers to be dispatched quickly across prefectural borders.

It is desirable for medicine to be used effectively. An antibody cocktail therapy, which was approved to treat COVID-19 patients last month, is expected to prevent the disease from worsening. There have been reports that patients treated with the therapy at an early stage of their infections have seen their fevers go down the following day. It is hoped that the therapy will become widely available at locations including accommodation facilities for recuperation.

To prevent the spread of the virus, it is essential to make smooth progress in the vaccination of young and middle-aged people by eliminating clogs in the supply of COVID-19 vaccines. In the fifth wave, cases in which even young people have developed serious symptoms have been conspicuous. All people are urged to take thorough measures to protect themselves from the virus.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Aug. 14, 2021.