Access denied: Virus third wave forces hand of Japan's medical system

Japan Times -- Jan 20
Skyrocketing numbers of people on waiting lists for hospitalization underline how officials are now being forced to limit medical care to the most critically ill COVID-19 patients amid bed shortages, with the vast majority of less urgent cases consigned into unsupervised home care.

As Japan grapples with its biggest surge in infections since the onset of the pandemic, more and more patients are being denied access to medical institutions.

The numbers of those waiting to be hospitalized or being cared for at other facilities has soared over the past month, especially in Tokyo.

The figure in the capital stood at 7,481 as of Monday evening, more than double the 3,516 seen on Jan. 6 and a jump of about elevenfold from the 653 logged on Dec. 2, according to Tokyo Metropolitan Government statistics.

Those individuals are typically instructed to wait at home while arrangements are made for their care. That risks further spread of the virus among family members or the drastic worsening of their condition while they are alone.

Hospitals, too, have been stretched thin to an extent rarely seen. As of Jan. 13, occupancy rates for COVID-19 beds in Tokyo hit an alarmingly high 83%, figures compiled by the health ministry showed.

Equally swamped are officials at the public health centers dotting each municipality. Those officials play a pivotal role in Japan’s efforts to identify and go after virus clusters, but with more and more patients placed on the waiting list for hospitalization they now deal with the additional, not to mention time-consuming, task of checking in on them a few times a day.

- Japan Times