AGENCIES, Tokyo: Japan’s experience with Covid-19 is turning into a nightmare even as some countries are slowly and painfully getting out of it.
In the past few weeks, coronavirus cases in Japan have spiked and has dashed hopes that the government’s virus response strategy had succeeded in controlling its spread. As of Friday, Japan had 9,787 confirmed cases, including 190 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University which is closely monitoring the global pandemic. This significantly contrasts the data of March 1, when the country reported just 243 cases.
As the pandemic numbers grow, the overloaded healthcare set-up is finding itself struggling to cope with essential supplies like ventilators, PPEs among others.
Ateam of government experts warned that Japan could have more than 400,000 coronavirus-related deaths if measures such as social distancing are not taken and most deaths could result from a lack of availability of ventilators.
The obvious shortage of medical supplies became clear this week when Osaka mayor Ichiro Matsui urged people to donate unused raincoats for health workers to use as personal protective equipment, after they’d been forced to wear trash bags.
Experts say medical shortages combined with comparatively low testing rates and Japan’s lack of provision for teleworking threatens to create a potentially explosive spike in cases.
While Japan has a better national health care system than the US, a shortage of medical supplies is an ongoing concern.
On Friday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe monitoring the crisis promised to provide medical equipment such as surgical masks, gowns and face shields to hospitals struggling with acute gear shortages within a week.
New coronavirus cases confirmed now include doctors, nurses and inpatients at a hospital in Tokyo’s Nakano ward. The increase of clusters in hospitals is particularly concerning, owing to the potential for further community transmission.
“It’s very important to move testing away from clinics and hospitals,” said Kenji Shibuya, director of the Institute for Population Health at King’s College London and a former chief of health policy at the World Health Organization (WHO).
“The lack of testing in Japan led to widespread community infection. Hospital workers are not prepared as they don’t know the infection status of the patient.”
Tokyo, being the worst hit hotspot is worrying the government as the Golden Week holiday season from late this month to May 6 is approaching fast as the state of emergency may have to be extended beyond first week of May if the situation didn’t improve significantly.
Till now, hospitals prioritised patients in need of urgent medical attention and health authorities overlooked cluster management.
As part of the revise containment strategy, the focus is now on testing cases in clusters rather than the widespread testing seen in countries such as neighbouring South Korea.
Japan has only tested about 90,000 people, compared with more than 513,000 in South Korea, which has a population of 51 million, compared to Japan’s 126 million.