Prepare strengthened measures in case of 6th wave of infections

The central and prefectural governments must be prepared to respond flexibly to an outbreak of a coronavirus variant by fortifying their testing and treatment systems. They must steadily implement measures to ensure that their plans are carried out.

The government has mapped out the overall picture of comprehensive measures in preparation for a possible “sixth wave” of infections.

The pillar of the plan is to establish a system by the end of this month under which hospitals would have the capacity to admit 37,000 coronavirus patients nationwide to cope with a virus variant that is twice as contagious as the one prevalent in summer.

At the peak of the fifth wave, a total of 28,000 people were hospitalized or on waiting lists to be hospitalized. The new plan calls for a system that will be able to treat 1.3 times that number of patients.

More than 70% of the population has been vaccinated against COVID-19, and therapeutic drugs are being developed. However, the possibility of the emergence of a virus variant that is more contagious than the delta variant that raged in the fifth wave cannot be denied.

It takes time to expand the medical system. It is important to thoroughly prepare for more serious situations and be ready to respond immediately.

Whether the necessary medical workers can be assembled will be key to implementing the measures as planned. Even if hospital beds are secured, if there are not enough nurses, patients will not be admitted.

In Tokyo, there were a number of cases where patients could not be admitted to hospitals even though hospitals beds for COVID-19 patients were only at 60% capacity. A cause was said to be “phantom hospital beds,” or beds that went unused, despite being earmarked for treatment of COVID-19 patients by subsidy-receiving facilities.

To avoid repeating that mistake, it is essential to take effective measures, such as deciding in advance on a plan to dispatch nurses and other personnel.

The government has also set a goal of having more than 80% of the hospital beds in operation. The government will announce hospital-by-hospital data on bed occupancy on a monthly basis so that utilization status can be monitored.

It is only natural to encourage disclosure of this information as a condition for subsidies. If the utilization status of hospital beds is immediately available, coordination for hospitalization will proceed smoothly.

Public health centers were sometimes slow in assessing the condition of people who were recuperating at home, and there were cases where patients’ health sudden deteriorated and some of them even died. The government measures are based on an assumption that up to 230,000 people could be recuperating at home or in accommodation facilities in the event of a future infection surge, and says that it will cooperate with 32,000 medical institutions and pharmacies to thoroughly monitor their health.

There is an urgent need to make PCR tests available at medical institutions close to home so that people can receive prompt treatment. In addition to preparing temporary medical facilities and accommodations, the government needs a system in place under which it can provide a meticulous response by utilizing home nursing and online medical services.

The government needs to monitor the progress of the plan and strongly support the efforts of prefectures.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Nov. 13, 2021.