Omicron surge putting strain on Okinawa medical system

The Yomiuri Shimbun
People visit Naha City Hospital in Naha on Friday.

NAHA (Jiji Press) — Concerns are growing over the medical care system in Okinawa Prefecture, with new cases of novel coronavirus infection hitting record highs in recent days.

Amid the virus resurgence, apparently driven by the omicron variant, hundreds of doctors, nurses and other hospital staff have become unable to go to work as they were found infected with the coronavirus or recognized as close contacts.

Some hospitals are limiting surgeries and hospitalization.

According to the prefectural government, the number of local doctors, nurses and other hospital staff taking leave of absence rose from some 120 on Wednesday to 313 at 21 medical institutions on Friday.

Due to manpower shortages, some hospitals are finding it difficult to secure beds for coronavirus patients.

At a private hospital in central Okinawa, 10 of its 21 beds for coronavirus patients are occupied. About 20 medical workers are absent, forcing six of the hospital’s 10 inpatient wards into closure, a situation in which patients cannot be admitted or discharged.

“Infection cases among our staff started increasing late last year. Many got infected at home,” an official said.

“All hospitals in the central part of the prefecture are finding it difficult to admit new patients. We are asking patients to move to hospitals in the southern area when emergency hospitalization is necessary,” the official said. “To put it bluntly, the medical system is collapsing.”

At a key private hospital in southern Okinawa, an increasing number of medical workers are absent for COVID-19 treatment or self-quarantine.

“Infection cases have started surging since the beginning of the year. Some people contracted the virus through group dining during the year-end and New Year’s holiday period,” a hospital official said.

“The number of emergency patients is increasing at our hospital because other hospitals are limiting the admission of emergency patients,” the official added.

“The biggest problem is the absence of medical staff,” said Hideaki Sasaki, a doctor at the Okinawa Red Cross Hospital and a member of the prefecture’s panel of experts to tackle the coronavirus.

The number of absent medical workers is growing by the hour, illustrating how severe the situation is, he told a meeting Friday.