Take all possible steps to secure medical system to battle pandemic

Coutesy of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases
An election micrograph of the omicron variant of the novel coronavirus

Unless the medical care system is drastically strengthened, it will be impossible to overcome the novel coronavirus pandemic, which has been described as being at a disaster level. The central government and related organizations need to work together to take all possible measures.

In response to the rapid increase in the number of people infected with the coronavirus, the central government has decided to expand the state of emergency that is currently in place in six prefectures, including Tokyo, to include seven other prefectures, including Ibaraki, Kyoto and Fukuoka.

Ten prefectures, including Miyagi, will be added to areas where less strict priority measures are being applied to prevent the spread of the virus. As a result, a total of 29 prefectures will be subject to a state of emergency or priority measures. The emergency and priority measures will be in place through Sept. 12.

The central government intends to ask large-scale commercial facilities with a floor space of more than 1,000 square meters to limit the number of visitors, among other measures. The move is aimed at curbing crowds and avoiding congestion.

The delta coronavirus variant, which has been replacing the original form of the virus nationwide, is estimated to be about twice as contagious as the conventional virus.

Experts stress that it cannot be controlled by implementing the same measures as before. The central government should present concrete measures to deal with the increase in the number of coronavirus patients, not simply call on the public for cooperation.

The number of people with serious symptoms has hit a record high for five consecutive days, surpassing 1,600. In the Tokyo metropolitan area and elsewhere, there are very few hospital beds for patients who need to be hospitalized immediately even if their symptoms worsen, and there has been an increasing number of cases in which the emergency transport of patients has not been possible.

Many people are wondering why the nation’s medical care system remains fragile, even though more than a year has passed since the outbreak of the pandemic.

It is important to further increase the number of hospital beds for patients with moderate symptoms or those in recovery, to support core hospitals that provide intensive care for the seriously ill.

Public health centers, which are responsible for checking the condition of patients recuperating at home, have not been able to keep up with the rapid increase in such patients. It is hoped that medical institutions that have not so far dealt with the coronavirus will actively cooperate with coronavirus control measures. For example, general practitioners in local communities could make house calls or conduct online examinations.

The central and prefectural governments must secure the personnel needed, hastily arrange new temporary hospital beds and expand the functions of overnight medical care facilities. They also should consider using related laws to ask medical institutions for cooperation.

Some medical institutions have reportedly notified local governments that they have secured hospital beds for coronavirus patients, for which they would be eligible to receive subsidies, but they have not actually accepted coronavirus patients.

There may be a shortage of nurses and other factors, but it is hard to understand why hospital beds secured under the subsidy program are not being utilized even though the situation has become severe. Local governments need to investigate the actual situation and make improvements as soon as possible.

The central government has approved the use at overnight medical care facilities of an antibody cocktail therapy that reduces the severity of the disease. It must make efforts to secure a stable supply of the drug so that it can be administered promptly to patients who need it.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Aug. 18, 2021.