While the postponed Tokyo Olympics continue into their second full week, the head of the Japan Medical Association called on Tuesday for a further expansion of the nationwide state of emergency to contain a surge in coronavirus cases in the city.
The new surge is occurring not only in the capital city of Tokyo but elsewhere as well, as reported by the Kyodo News Agency.
The call by JMA President Toshio Nakagawa followed Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s recent announcement that only this coronavirus patients who are seriously ill, as well as those at risk of becoming seriously ill will be hospitalized.
Others will be told to simply isolate at home. This marks a complete change in healthcare policy and procedures; some say it may ultimately lead to more deaths.
Japan coronavirus cases spiking; medical system “could collapse”
“Infections are expanding in the Tokyo and western metropolitan areas at an enormous speed that we have never experienced before,” said the Prime Minister when he declared the expansion of the state of emergency. If the number of infections continues to rise at the current pace with the Delta variant spreading apace, the country’s Japan’s medical system could collapse, he added ominously.
For the last several weeks — since the beginning of the Games — Japan has experienced a sharp increase in coronavirus infections, with Tokyo seeing a record high of 4,058 new infections on Saturday.
Yesterday, Tuesday, there were another 3,709 new cases. Hironori Sagara, the director of Showa University Hospital, told Reuters that hospitals in the capital are already under immense pressure.
“There are those being rejected repeatedly for admission,” he told reporters. “In the midst of the excitement over the Olympics, the situation for medical personnel is very severe.”
Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato remarked to the press that “infections of younger people are increasing and the numbers of people in their 40s and 50s with severe symptoms are rising.”
He also acknowledged that some who are suffering from Covid-19 could not immediately get admittance to a hospital.
The change in Japan’s coronavirus hospital policy due to was announced on Monday; previous procedures had focused on hospitalizing a broader category of patients, with no mention of any difficulty in accommodating any patients.
The organizers of the Olympics maintain that there is no link between the Games, which started on July 23 and will go to August 8, and the spike in cases.
Many health experts, however, have opined that holding the Olympics despite the ongoing pandemic sent a confusing message about the need to stay home, contributing to the rise.
Japan has a very low vaccination rate as well- in stark contrast to almost all of the developed nations which sent athletes to the Games. While vaccination rates in the EU and the US hover around 70%, just under 30% of the Japanese public is fully vaccinated.
The decision to hold the Games came as a surprise to some who wondered how the Japanese government was so slow in its vaccination administration campaigns with the Games coming up in the summer.
More than 80% of the athletes and coaches and other personnel currently staying in the bubble of the Olympic village are vaccinated, while testing is compulsory.
Still, organizers announced that there were 18 new Olympics-related coronavirus cases on Tuesday, bringing the total since July 1 to 294.
“In-home abandonment” instead of needed hospital stays
Meanwhile, Japanese Prime Minister Suga vowed to “protect people’s lives” in a meeting with heads of national medical groups that same day.
JMA President Nakagawa urged action, however, saying “The spreading infections on a nationwide scale are approaching our biggest crisis since last year’s first wave.”
Speaking about the decision to force those suffering with the virus to stay home rather than seek medical attention in a hospital, opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan leader Yukio Edano stated “They call it in-home treatment but it’s actually in-home abandonment.”
According to the Reuters report, publicly-available data shows that almost 70% of hospital beds for those patients suffering from the coronavirus who are seriously ill were filled as of Sunday, August 1.
The director of Showa University Hospital, Hironori Sagara, said there is a difference between beds that are theoretically “available” and those that could accept patients on an immediate basis.
“Olympics were held but medical system collapsed”
“I think the latter is close to zero,” he noted. He then said that if the number of infections keeps rising, hospitals in Japan will be forced to limit surgeries and other non-coronavirus-related treatments.
“We must avoid a situation in which the Olympics was held but the medical system collapsed,” he charged.
“At present, infections are spreading quite a lot and if they spike further, (the Olympics) will be considered a failure,” he added.
According to Japanese health ministry guidelines, seriously ill patients are considered to be those admitted to intensive care units (ICUs) or those who need artificial respirators — as so many coronavirus patients do.
The newspaper Tokyo Shimbun reports that as of now, a total of 12,000 patients are isolating at home; this represents a 12-fold increase just over the past month.
On Monday, the beginning of the second week of the Olympics, the country expanded its state of emergency to include three prefectures near Tokyo and the western prefecture of Osaka as well. An existing state of emergency in Tokyo, its fourth since the beginning of the pandemic began, and Okinawa, will now last past the Games, through Aug. 31.
Five other areas, including Hokkaido, Kyoto, Hyogo and Fukuoka, will be placed under less-stringent emergency restrictions.
The country’s latest emergency steps, unlike the much stricter measures taken in many countries, have focused for the most part on asking dining establishments that serve alcohol to close and those that do not, to close by 8 PM every day.
So far, the country has avoided the more widespread outbreaks of the virus seen around the world, with approximately 941,000 total cases since the beginning of the pandemic. The death toll in Japan of all those who passed away with the disease came to just over 15,000 as of Monday.
Japan’s seven-day rolling average of cases is growing and now stands at 28 per 100,000 people nationwide and 88 per 100,000 in Tokyo, according to the nation’s Health Ministry. This is far in excess of the 18.5 in the United States and 48 in Britain per 100,000 inhabitants, according to Johns Hopkins University.
As of today, 2,995 people are hospitalized in Tokyo, which corresponds to almost half of the current hospital bed capacity of 6,000.
According to the Associated Press, some Japanese hospitals are already full.
Also, nearly 5,600 Japanese citizens are waiting at home for further instructions while health centers decide if or when they will be allowed to enter a hospital. Tokyo is also setting up a facility for patients who require oxygen as they wait for hospital beds.
Japan reported a total of 10,687 cases last Thursday, which was the first time it had exceeding 10,000 since the pandemic began.
Last Friday, the governor of Tokyo, Yuriko Koike stated that people in their 30s or younger account for many of the new cases, urging them to “share the sense of crisis” and follow the most basic measures in effect, such as wearing a mask wearing and “avoiding having parties.”