Japanese healthcare system feared to collapse amid a wave of new COVID-19 cases

April 20, 2020

As the coronavirus outbreak in Japan worsens, its doctors have warned that the country’s medical system could collapse due to the extra burden caused by the virus. This suggests Japan has not prepared well for the emergency, despite being the second country outside China to record an infection, way back in January.

The country initially appeared to have the virus under control, but with a flurry of new cases, there is obvious pressure on its health system – already, some hospitals have had to turn away patients with other serious health conditions as coronavirus cases take priority.Two separate medical associations said that the coronavirus outbreak was reducing the ability of Japan’s hospitals to treat other medical emergencies.

“To prevent the medical system from crumbling, everyone needs to extend a helping hand. Otherwise, hospitals would break down,” said Konoshin Tamura, the Deputy head of an association of GPs. According to Tamura, groups of doctors at GP surgeries in Tokyo are assisting hospitals with the testing of potential coronavirus patients in order to ease some of the pressure on the health system.

Additionally, doctors have complained of a lack of protective equipment: the mayor of Osaka recently appealed for people to donate their raincoats, so they could be used as personal protective equipment (PPE) for health workers whom he said were being forced to fashion PPE out of rubbish bags.

Last month, Japan conducted just 16% of the number of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests that South Korea did. South Korea has brought its outbreak largely under control through a programme of large-scale testing, but the Japanese government said that carrying out widespread testing was a “waste of resources”; testing is also governed by local health centres, some of which are not equipped to carry out testing on a major scale.

However, at the end of the working week, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe indicated that the government was shifting its policy on testing and rolling it out more widely. The Japansese government will be increasing the rate of testing by introducing drive-through facilities to better track the spread of the disease.

“With help from regional medical associations, we will set up testing centres,” Abe said; “If home doctors have decided testing is necessary, test samples taken at these centres will be sent to private inspection firms to lessen the burden on public health facilities.”

His comments came shortly after he announced a nationwide state of emergency due to the coronavirus outbreak. The move will remain in force until May 6, 2020.


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