1,000 extra beds for covid patients to be set aside in Tokyo, Osaka

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Temporary medical facilities set up by the Tochigi prefectural government

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and the governors of Tokyo and Osaka agreed Wednesday to set up additional temporary medical facilities in the two prefectures to provide medical care for a total of about 1,000 patients.

Kishida, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike and Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura decided the additional capacity was needed to care for elderly and other people at high risk of becoming severely ill as the novel coronavirus’ omicron variant continues to spread.

The government will fully support efforts to secure medical personnel to work at the temporary facilities.

Kishida met with Koike at the Prime Minister’s Office and talked with Yoshimura in an online meeting.

The temporary medical facilities are expected to treat mainly elderly people and pregnant women, caring for patients with mild symptoms, or moderate symptoms such as pneumonia, which can make breathing difficult. Equipment for administering oxygen will be available.

The Tokyo metropolitan government will make a total of 660 beds available for coronavirus patients in accommodation facilities, including part of the Shinagawa Prince Hotel in Minato Ward, and the Osaka government will set aside 350 beds at venues including the Smile Hotel Shin-Osaka in Yodogawa Ward. The facilities will gradually swing into operation from mid-February.

Currently, the Tokyo government has secured 6,919 beds for coronavirus patients, and the Osaka government has secured 3,795 beds. The Tokyo government also has established about 1,000 beds in temporary medical facilities, and the Osaka government has 812 such beds.

No obligation for children 5 to 11

The health ministry has compiled a proposal that would exclude children aged from 5 to 11 from the obligation to make efforts to be inoculated, because there is limited data indicating the effectiveness of vaccines for children this age.

All people aged 12 and over in Japan are obligated to make such efforts.

The proposal was submitted Thursday to a meeting of an expert panel of the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry. In a policy change, pregnant women would be required to make efforts to get vaccinated.

There has been considerable debate over whether the duty to try to get vaccinated, which is stipulated in the Immunization Law, should be applied to children aged 5 to 11 in a bid to prevent infectious diseases from running rampant. Children in this age bracket cannot be forcibly vaccinated even if they become subject to this article in the law, but it becomes easier for local authorities to encourage parents and caregivers to get children inoculated.

However, the Japan Pediatric Society had urged a cautious approach, saying there was “insufficient data” regarding vaccines’ effectiveness against omicron and other variants.

The ministry has no specific concerns about vaccines’ safety, but it plans for the time being to exclude these children from the requirement to make efforts to get jabbed until their effectiveness can be properly confirmed. Vaccination vouchers will be distributed to all people, including those for whom vaccinations are recommended.

The government last month gave special fast-track approval to the Pfizer Inc. vaccine for children aged 5 to 11. The government plans to start administering this vaccine as soon as March to children who wish to receive it.