Signs of hospital bed shortage emerge in Tokyo

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Signs are emerging of a shortage of hospital beds in Tokyo, as the spread of the novel coronavirus continues unabated, especially among young people, two weeks after the latest state of emergency was declared for the capital.

The situation is different from that of the third wave in January, due to progress with vaccinations and the subsequent decrease in elderly patients, who are at risk of becoming seriously ill. However, the daily number of new infections in the capital hit a record high of 3,177, topping the previous day’s record of 2,848.

Tokyo Rinkai Hospital in Edogawa Ward closed two wards to secure 50 beds for moderately ill COVID-19 patients, and about 40 of those beds have been consistently occupied since mid-July. More than half of the moderately ill patients are in their 40s or 50s.

“Compared to the third wave early this year, the number of elderly patients is small, so we’re managing somehow. But the situation is still difficult to predict,” said Tomoyoshi Yamaguchi, head of the department of respiratory medicine.

According to Yamaguchi, the number of patients waiting to be hospitalized is increasing in Edogawa Ward. As more and more people, particularly young people, have contracted the virus, hospital admissions have been delayed. As a result, even patients with chronic illnesses, who are more likely to become seriously ill, are being forced to stay at home or in hotels.

Some patients had worsening pneumonia when they were admitted. An official of the ward government said, “People should be aware that all ages are at risk.”

At Showa University Hospital in Shinagawa Ward, there has been a 50% increase in hospitalized patients in the past week. Hospital director Hironori Sagara said, “We’re considering securing more beds for COVID-19 patients, but that would force us to limit the treatment of patients with other conditions.”

Vaccine effect?

The number of newly confirmed coronavirus cases in Tokyo fell below 500 in many days in late June, but topped 1,000 on July 14. On Tuesday, the number surpassed the peak of 2,520 seen during the third wave.

In contrast, however, there were no deaths on many of the seven days to Tuesday. From late January to early February, between 20 and 40 deaths occurred daily.

Seriously ill patients have also been decreasing. There were 82 on Tuesday and 80 on Wednesday, about half the peak of 160 seen during the third wave.

People aged 60 or older accounted for more than 80% of those with severe symptoms during the third wave, but the figure is now around 40%. This may be attributed to the steady progress in vaccinations for elderly people.

However, COVID-19 patients in their 40s to 50s tend to become seriously ill, and the number of seriously ill patients could increase if the infections continue to spread at the current pace.

There have also been moves to prepare for a bed shortage. This month, the Tokyo metropolitan government opened a facility at Heisei-Tateishi Hospital in Katsushika Ward where patients waiting for hospitalization can be temporarily admitted and receive such treatment as being given oxygen.

The move is aimed at preventing people waiting to be hospitalized from dying at home due to a sudden deterioration in their condition, without receiving necessary medical treatment.

The facility has 20 beds and has been accepting about five new patients every day since Friday. Patients who come here have been admitted to a hospital the following day.

However, some observers say infections have not yet peaked. A research team led by Taisuke Nakata, an associate professor of economics at the University of Tokyo, estimates that the number of people hospitalized as of the first week of September may reach 7,200. This would surpass the 6,300 beds that the metropolitan government has secured for COVID-19 patients.