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Married nurses in Japan choose to live apart from spouse to prevent infecting each other

A female nurse who began living apart from her husband to prevent infecting him. There are not enough masks at the senior home where she works in Fukuoka Prefecture. (Photo courtesy of the nurse herself)

As the novel coronavirus continues to spread, those in the medical field in Japan and family members who live with them, who are at high risk of becoming infected, are living in fear. There are even couples who have decided to live apart for the time being to prevent infecting each other with the virus.

A nurse in her 30s living in the southwestern prefecture of Fukuoka began living separately from her husband, also a nurse, in early April. The designated medical institution for specified infectious diseases at which he works was now going to accept patients with COVID-19, and she feared that if she were to contract the virus through him, there would be a chance that she would bring the virus into the senior citizen's facility where she works.

Her husband's hospital was taking all the necessary precautions to prevent infections, but medical staff cannot avoid coming in contact with their patients. When the woman explained the situation to the facility where she works, facility officials told her they wanted her to avoid any risks of infection, but that they also wanted her to continue working at the facility. The facility rented an apartment from which she could commute, and also provided her with a hotel room until that apartment was ready.

A female nurse who began living apart from her husband to prevent infecting the rest of her family. At the senior home where she works in Fukuoka Prefecture, it is crucial to disinfect one's hands to prevent infection. (Photo courtesy of the nurse herself)

The woman had lost her mother, also a nurse, when she was a young girl. Wondering what her mother was like as a nurse, it was as if she was following her mother's lead as she became a nurse herself. She and her husband share the calling to save people's lives, and understand each other's grueling work conditions. "Under the circumstances, there isn't much else we can do about it," they agreed. Seven years into their marriage, they reached a conclusion right away. This would be the first time they would be living apart since they became husband and wife.

The woman has not gone home even to retrieve many of her things, but she and her husband catch up every day on the phone. At her husband's hospital, any staff who are feeling the least bit ill are forced to take time off, but that means that there's more of a burden placed on the staff who are able to show up at work. Her husband has told her, "We don't have enough masks or protective gear," which concerns her. Not wanting to worry any family members, the couple has not told them that they're living apart.

A self-employed man in his 40s living in the southwestern Japanese city of Miyazaki, is also worried that his fortysomething wife, who is a nurse, will contract the novel coronavirus. Her workplace is not a designated medical institution for specified infectious diseases, but has become a cooperating medical institution that will take in patients infected with the new coronavirus since April. The couple has a young son, and the man was treated for cancer a few years ago, which makes him likely to experience grave symptoms if he were to contract the virus.

"If my wife's hospital begins accepting patients infected with the new coronavirus, our son and I may have to live separately from my wife," he says. His wife, meanwhile, said worriedly, "Realistically speaking, I may just have to live in my car."

(Japanese original by Masanori Hirakawa, Kyushu News Department, and Yuka Shiotsuki, Miyazaki Bureau)

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