Tokyo’s health care woes deepen as COVID cases remain high

Aug 20 , 2021. 12 hours ago – 21:14 KYODO NEWS

TOKYO – Nearly 1,000 COVID-19 patients who requested an emergency ambulance service in Tokyo during the first week of August were turned away by hospitals, the Tokyo Fire Department said Thursday, as record levels of coronavirus infections in the capital outstrip hospital capacity to treat patients.

Of 1,668 people who were recuperating at home or designated lodging facilities and sought ambulance transport due to worsening of their condition, 959 could not be accepted at any medical institution, it said.

Shigeru Omi, chairman of a Japanese government subcommittee on the coronavirus response, speaks at a parliamentary hearing on Aug. 19, 2021, in Tokyo. (Kyodo)

Tokyo has been under a fourth COVID-19 emergency since July 12, but the resurgence of infections shows no sign of abating, forcing the government of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to set a new policy earlier in the month of only allowing people showing severe symptoms to be hospitalized to cope with a hospital bed shortage.

The capital confirmed 5,534 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, the Tokyo metropolitan government said, the second-highest daily number following 5,773 reported Friday.

Most of the 709 patients delivered to hospitals in the Tokyo Fire Department’s dispatch area between Aug. 2 and 8 were diverted or had to wait until they were eventually accepted by hospitals, according to the department.

For 629 of them, it took more than an hour to be admitted to a hospital, with 52 spending five hours or more in transport before beds became available, it said.

Japan’s top COVID-19 adviser earlier Thursday called on the central government and municipalities to set up temporary treatment sites and make more lodging facilities available for COVID-19 patients while cautioning about a government-backed program that will allow school students to be spectators at Tokyo Paralympics events opening Tuesday.

“The status of infections is a lot worse now” compared with when the 17-day Tokyo Olympics were held from July 23, Shigeru Omi, chairman of a government subcommittee on the coronavirus response, told a parliamentary hearing ahead of the start of Paralympics on Tuesday.

He added his panel has not been consulted by the government about the way the Paralympics should be held.

The International Paralympic Committee, the games’ organizing committee, the Tokyo metropolitan government and the Japanese government agreed earlier this week to bar spectators at all Paralympic venues, which are located in Tokyo and the prefectures of Chiba, Saitama and Shizuoka.

But they confirmed that as an exception, students of local schools taking part in a government-backed educational program will be allowed to watch competitions in person, if municipalities and schools wish.

Despite anti-virus measures taken under the state of emergency and quasi-emergency status in hard-hit areas, Japan is grappling with its largest wave of infections yet, with the nationwide tally of new cases topping 25,000 in another record high on Thursday.

The government has decided to extend the coronavirus state of emergency covering Tokyo and five prefectures to Sept. 12, beyond the previous end date of Aug. 31, while expanding the measure to seven more prefectures.