Joint efforts needed to reinforce medical services to fight pandemic

A situation in which lives that could have been saved are not saved must be prevented. The government and medical institutions need to deepen their cooperation even further and establish a system to overcome the so-called fifth wave of novel coronavirus infections, which has seen the highest infection numbers to date.

The pandemic has yet to be brought under control, and the number of seriously ill COVID-19 patients has increased. With the shortage of hospital beds still far from being resolved, the number of people recuperating at home has reached 130,000 nationwide. Cases have been reported one after another of COVID-19 patients dying without being hospitalized.

Securing hospital beds is an urgent task. The central and Tokyo metropolitan governments asked hospitals in the capital that currently accept COVID-19 patients to set up more beds for such people, but only about 350 beds have been added, far below their target of 7,000.

The current system, which relies on the efforts of certain medical institutions, is reaching its limit. It is important to establish temporary medical facilities so that patients who cannot find hospitals to admit them can receive appropriate treatment.

Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura has announced a plan to set up a temporary hospital with up to 1,000 beds at a large exhibition hall in Osaka City. The prefectural government envisages that this facility will provide hospitalization for young patients with mild or moderate COVID-19 symptoms and aims to have the facility up and running as soon as possible.

There have been moves elsewhere to set up temporary medical facilities that provide antibody cocktail therapy, which is believed to be effective in preventing COVID-19 patients from developing serious symptoms. In Tokyo, the metropolitan government plans to make arrangements to utilize hotels and some of its facilities as medical facilities to treat patients with this therapy.

Data suggest that 80% of patients who receive antibody cocktail therapy show signs of recovery if the antibodies are administered within seven days of the onset of the disease. It is hoped that patients across the nation can receive this therapy as soon as possible.

Securing doctors and nurses for that purpose is a challenge. The central and local governments are urged to tenaciously seek cooperation from hospitals, including ones that have not been involved in treating COVID-19 patients, to dispatch personnel in line with the revised Infectious Diseases Law.

It is important that smooth progress be made, by providing subsidies to medical institutions that comply with requests to dispatch personnel, and by offering stipends and training to dispatched doctors and nurses.

Many small and midsize hospitals are unable to accept COVID-19 patients because their buildings’ layout makes it difficult to separate infected patients from general patients. It is hoped that such hospitals will also become actively involved in responding to the pandemic through such efforts as dispatching their doctors and nurses in rotating shifts.

Hospitals that treat patients with severe COVID-19 symptoms require more nurses than usual, leading to so-called dormant wards that cannot accept new patients even though beds are unoccupied.

Consideration should also be given to sending outside medical teams to such wards to treat COVID-19 patients.

An emergency cannot be handled with ordinary thinking. All possible uses of medical resources must be explored.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Sept. 5, 2021.