Hospital bed occupancy high in Hokkaido, Okayama and Hiroshima prefectures

NEXU Science Communication/via REUTERS
A computer image shows a model structurally representative of a betacoronavirus which is the type of virus linked to COVID-19.

Medical systems remain stressed, and hospital bed occupancy rates are high, in the three prefectures most recently added to the central government’s declaration of a coronavirus state of emergency: Hokkaido, Okayama and Hiroshima.

The three prefectures are set to be under a state of emergency from Sunday until the end of this month. The state of emergency already covers the prefectures of Aichi, Fukuoka, Hyogo, Kyoto, Osaka and Tokyo.

In many regions, the occupancy rate of hospital beds was at Stage 4, the most serious level, as of Thursday.

In Hokkaido, 395 of the 410 hospital beds for COVID-19 patients in Sapporo, or 96.3% of the total, were already occupied. At KKR Sapporo Medical Center, where 20 beds are set aside to treat novel coronavirus patients, the situation since April has been such that once a bed is vacated it is soon occupied by a new case. Hiroshi Isobe, head of the hospital, said, “We have set foot on the brink of the collapse of the medical service system.”

The city of Sapporo has requested hospitals in neighboring municipalities to take in its infected patients. Seventeen patients were transported out of the city for treatment in all of April, but the number for early May had already reached 19 as of Thursday. In one case, a patient was sent as far away as Asahikawa, more than 100 kilometers from Sapporo. But even in Asahikawa, the occupancy rate stands at nearly 60%.

Kenichi Makino, head of the Japanese Red Cross Asahikawa Hospital, said, “If the occupancy rate of beds reaches 70% to 80%, there will be no room left for us to accept any coronavirus patients from Sapporo.”

In Okayama Prefecture, the daily number of new cases had topped 100 for nine consecutive days as of Friday. The occupancy rate of hospital beds, which stood at 22% on April 13, had reached 69% as of Thursday. On May 8, an infected patient who was on a waiting list for hospitalization died.

In Hiroshima Prefecture, too, the number of infected patients has soared since late last month. The number of new cases per 100,000 people stood at 44 for the latest week, placing the prefecture at Stage 4 in this regard, while the occupancy rate of hospital beds has reached 58%.

Meanwhile, in Tokyo and Osaka, where the state of emergency has been in place since late last month, there has been no marked improvement in the medical systems.

In Tokyo, the hospital bed occupancy rate, which had been 30% when the state of emergency was declared on April 25, has worsened to 39%. The occupancy rate of beds for seriously ill patients is 38%, almost the same as earlier.

In Osaka, the occupancy rate of hospital beds is 85%, while the rate for patients with serious symptoms has been hovering around 81%, showing that the situation remains critical, with many relevant metrics far exceeding the threshold of Stage 4.

The government said that it will decide on lifting the state of emergency by comprehensively taking into account whether the infection situation has been mitigated to Stage 3, the second most serious level. For regions where the state of emergency is in place, a big hurdle will be reducing the occupancy rate of hospital beds by May 31, the date until which the state of emergency is slated to be in place.

Meanwhile, there is no telling how the situation of medical systems will develop in the three prefectures of Gunma, Ishikawa and Kumamoto, to which the government has decided to apply emergency-level priority measures to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, starting from Sunday and set to last till June 13.