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Man dies of coronavirus in Japan after being told to wait turn to be hospitalized

The son, right, and the grandchild of a man, who died of the novel coronavirus after being told by a public health center to wait at home, question why he couldn't be admitted to a hospital earlier, in Saitama Prefecture on May 1, 2020. (Mainichi/Kayo Mukuda)

TOKYO -- A man in his 80s from Saitama Prefecture north of Tokyo died of the novel coronavirus in mid-April after a public health center told him he had to wait his turn to be hospitalized, as some 200 patients were on the waiting list in the prefecture at the time.

Although the bereaved family had asked that he'd be admitted to a hospital at an early date, the man had to wait at home, where his condition took a sudden turn for the worse. They are criticizing the prefectural government's response, with one family member saying, "His condition was so severe that he couldn't even talk. He was practically neglected."

According to the man's family, he lived with his wife who was also in her 80s. He developed symptoms such as a fever and a cough in early April and visited a nearby hospital. He cared for himself at home and took the fever-reducing medicine he had been prescribed.

The man's condition deteriorated on April 13 and he was transported to a hospital in the prefectural city of Tokorozawa by ambulance. However, it was decided he didn't need to be admitted, and he returned home after taking a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test.

A public health center in the prefectural city of Sayama called on April 15 to inform the man that he had tested positive for the new coronavirus. His wife pleaded and asked that he'd be swiftly hospitalized, but she was told by the center, "We are prioritizing the hospitalization of patients who are severely ill." The public health center called again that night to inform that they "couldn't find a hospital" for him.

It became difficult for the man to breathe the next day, and he was again transported to the hospital in Tokorozawa. However, due to the seriousness of his condition he was transferred to a different hospital in the prefecture to receive advanced treatment later that day.

The man was put on a ventilator in an intensive care unit, but died on April 27. His wife also tested positive for the virus after the man was hospitalized, and is now admitted at a different hospital.

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has outlined a policy to admit basically all elderly people infected with the novel coronavirus to hospitals. By April 15, the day the man tested positive, the prefectural government had decided to have all coronavirus carriers hospitalized. But there were already 207 people waiting at home for authorities to arrange their hospitalization, and the man had to wait his turn. The public health center examined his condition over the phone, and was ready to contact a medical institution if necessary.

The man's 55-year-old son angrily told the Mainichi Shimbun, "The system to just check on the patient's condition over the phone without actually seeing them is irresponsible."

The man's 24-year-old grandchild said, "I called my grandfather the day after he was first transported to the hospital, but he was coughing so hard he couldn't talk, and he was also unable to eat. I have questions over the public health center's decision. The outcome might have been different if their response was quicker. "

Asked by the press about the circumstances of the man's death on May 1, Saitama Gov. Motohiro Ono said, "The positive test result came out in the evening, and the man was sleeping when he was called again that night, so it (the call) was arranged for the next morning. I think the arrangement was appropriate."

The public health office in Sayama said it could not answer questions about individual cases, and commented, "Usually, doctors first decide if a patient needs to be admitted. We are currently making adjustments so that patients do not have to remain at home but can stay in a hospital or a hotel."

(Japanese original by Kayo Mukuda and Nobuyuki Shimada, City News Department)

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