Kishida government plans more beds for COVID 6th wave in Japan

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks at a COVID-19 task force meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Tokyo on Friday.

The government held a COVID-19 task force meeting Friday where it decided on the overall picture of comprehensive measures against the novel coronavirus to prepare for a possible sixth wave of infections.

Under the measures, the government plans to establish by the end of this month a system in which about 37,000 COVID-19 patients, or about 30% more than the infection peak this summer, can be hospitalized. The measures also include a plan to visualize the availability of hospital beds by publicizing occupancy rates by medical institution every month from December.

The government also stated that it could strongly request the public to restrict activities, such as strictly refraining from going out, if a surge of infections is expected to overwhelm the medical system.

At the task force meeting, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said, “The situation of infections has calmed down now, but it is important to assume the worst case scenario and prepare for the next surge of infections.”

The main focus of the measures is to strengthen the medical care system. At the peak this summer, the number of COVID-19 patients who were hospitalized or on waiting lists for hospitalization totaled about 28,000. As of Sept. 1, a total of 39,419 hospital beds had been secured for COVID-19 patients nationwide, but many people could not be hospitalized and some of the beds were left unused.

The government has asked prefectural governments to formulate their plans to secure hospital beds in order to establish a system that can cope with the situation even if a virus variant is as twice infectious as the one that spread this summer. About 45,000 beds are now expected to be secured nationwide by the end of this month. With the assumption that the occupancy rate of hospital beds will be about 80%, it has been calculated that about 37,000 patients can be admitted.

In addition, temporary medical facilities for patients who are at risk of becoming seriously ill are likely to add beds to accept about 3,400 COVID-19 patients, almost four times more than this summer, while accommodation facilities are expected to increase the number of rooms for patients recuperating by 30% to about 61,000.

In a possible sixth wave, the number of COVID-19 patients recuperating at home or in accommodation facilities is projected to peak at about 230,000. Health monitoring, which has been conducted only by public health centers, will be carried out in cooperation with about 32,000 local medical institutions, utilizing online medical services.

The “worst-case scenario” that the prime minister mentioned is likely to be a situation in which the infectiousness of the virus is more than double that of this summer. The government presented plans to call for strong restrictions on activities, such as closing eating establishments, canceling events, drastically revising public transportation schedules and strictly refraining from going out, in case the medical system is feared to be overwhelmed. In such a case, the government also plans to secure hospital beds on an emergency basis by limiting normal medical care.

Regarding the third round of COVID-19 vaccinations, inoculations at companies and universities are planned to start in March next year. To support the development of medicines to treat COVID-19, including domestically produced oral drugs, the government plans to pay a subsidy of up to about ¥2 billion for each drug. It also plans to acquire about 600,000 doses of an oral drug, which is expected to be commercialized within this year, by the end of this fiscal year. As a medium- to long-term measure, the government is expected to purchase 1 million more doses, meaning the securement of a total of 1.6 million doses in sight.