The ICU of St. Luke’s International Hospital in Tokyo always keeps an extra bed open for coronavirus patients who suddenly take a turn for the worse. They also save it for any coronavirus patient who could arrive at any hour of the day.
Fumie Sakamoto manages the St. Luke’s International Hospital’s infection control division. She said that the ICU in the Tokyo hospital is currently only for COVID-19 patients.
Many hospitals are reluctant to accept coronavirus cases, and the most critical cases are transferred to hospitals that are willing such as St. Luke’s. However, they, too, are already overwhelmed.
Presently, the confirmed coronavirus cases in Japan have reached almost 14,000, and hospitals like St. Luke’s are trying to save their limited capacity for critically ill patients. With the number of confirmed cases on the increase, hospitals are improvising makeshift equipment to protect the frontline medical staff.
The country is also scrambling for protective gear and medical equipment, as seen in many countries. Some experts and doctors attribute this lack of financial assistance and protective gear to the failure to respond by the central government and some local governments.
The coronavirus approach by the Japanese government is different. Unlike other countries, Japanese authorities are not empowered legally to enforce strict lockdowns nor penalize companies and individuals who are violating isolation guidelines.
Japan does not have the legal force as well to compel hospitals in the country to take in patients. However, such requests should not be made if hospitals are not prepared to handle infectious diseases, according to Yoshiyuki Sugishita, a senior officer handling the Tokyo coronavirus response.
Around 1,500 patients and medical professionals have tested positive while working inside healthcare facilities or staying at such medical institutions. Accepting coronavirus patients poses a severe risk, particularly for institutions that are generally not capable of handling or treating infectious diseases.
Currently, private and some public hospitals may and do reject coronavirus patients who are critically ill. Many hospitals that rely on short routine surgeries and brief hospital stay for income cannot risk it and shut down operations to accommodate coronavirus patients. More so, there are no measures at present, aimed at helping hospitals forced to stop their normal functions after accepting COVID-19 patients.
Numerous hospitals have been taking in coronavirus patients despite financial losses. However, there are still cases where coronavirus patients are either rejected or transferred to very distant medical institutions to be accommodated.
Japan’s health ministry has allocated 149 billion yen ($1.38 billion) in its supplementary budget to support medical facilities. However, this is not enough, according to Aichi governor Hideaki Ohmura. He said that the central government needed to do more to assist hospitals.
Also, the shortage of protective gear is palpable. The health ministry is trying to supply 100 million surgical masks to different Japanese hospitals. Still, according to the Japan Medical Association, this is only a quarter of what its members need.
Due to slow response and severe shortages, Noboru Hagino, a rheumatology specialist, has tried to search help in the country for masks, seeking donations from willing donors. Some hospitals are also testing whether they can make face shields by taping transparent files together or using 3D printers.
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