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Editorial: Japan gov't, hospitals must prepare for wider coronavirus outbreak

A government expert committee has stated it believes the spread of the new coronavirus within Japan is still at an "early stage."

Considering that groups of connected infections have been confirmed in several places across the country, we can assume that the coronavirus is now being transmitted within Japan's borders. This means the time is now to implement countermeasures.

The vast majority of people who contract the virus present only mild symptoms before getting better. However, some people also develop severe pneumonia, with the elderly, those with weak immune systems, diabetes, heart failure or other pre-existing conditions being at especially high risk. The more people who are infected overall, the more serious cases there will be. Going forward, it is essential to limit the number of COVID-19 pneumonia deaths to the absolute minimum.

To do this, it is important to take whatever steps we can across multiple fields. For regular people, that means doing things to reduce transmission. Looking at the examples of the many infected people aboard the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship and the multiple cases connected to a party on a "yakatabune" tour boat, it is plain that the coronavirus spreads easily among people gathered in confined spaces.

That being the case, we call on everyone to reconsider whether holding or attending any big get-togethers is necessary. Companies, too, should implement staggered working hours and teleworking so their employees can avoid riding packed rush hour trains, as well as video conferencing.

Furthermore, if people with light symptoms of the virus and who are unlikely to develop COVID-19 pneumonia unthinkingly head to medical institutions to get checked out, they could infect people there who are at higher risk, as well as the medical staff. To make sure they can devote care and resources to the seriously ill, it is important for people to refer to the standards set out by the government expert committee and decide on the best timing for getting examinations.

People who show symptoms should try to stay indoors, and remember to call one of the consultation centers set up to respond to the outbreak before going to a medical facility.

As long as the number of infections remains low, then the health institutions designated to deal with the disease will be able to cope. However, if the ranks of the sick swell, then regular hospitals will also have to take coronavirus patients. Hospitals need to start preparing for this scenario now, such as by instituting measures to keep people with the virus separated from other patients.

The infection of medical staff is one very serious problem that has emerged as anti-virus policies are implemented. Doctors and nurses who get the coronavirus can spread it through a hospital, potentially increasing the number of cases among people at high risk of developing COVID-19 pneumonia. Furthermore, infections among staff could mean temporary closure of the hospital, weakening the level of care across an entire region.

The government must carefully examine the state of the outbreak in Japan, and develop measures to protect medical practitioners.

Nursing homes and day centers for the elderly also have to take thorough steps to prevent transmission. This sector especially needs to check and recheck its anti-contagion measures.

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