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Japanese medical community despairs at public's lack of concern for mounting virus wave


The air has shifted -- and many in the medical community are concerned by the changes in attitudes toward the coronavirus they're seeing in society at large.

    Compared to the first wave of infections, in which the whole country got in the mood to limit its activities, now people are more relaxed, with some shops even refusing to comply with requests to reduce their business hours. Disparities in the way ordinary people and medical professionals perceive the threat are widening.

    One 26-year-old nurse working on the coronavirus ward of a hospital in the Hokuriku region of central Japan told the Mainichi Shimbun, "Now is more serious than it was in spring."

    During the first wave of coronavirus infections in spring, the hospital reserved half of a regular ward to secure five beds designated for COVID-19 patients. At the time they didn't have any opportunity to receive patients with the infection, but at the end of November they suddenly saw a rush of elderly patients with the virus, and within days all the beds were filled.

    Now they have their hands full responding to the coronavirus. And if the infections spread further, there are concerns it will stop the hospital from being able to carry out surgeries for separate conditions and other normally offered treatments.

    But amid this coronavirus spread, the number of people on trips and out at eateries using the government's "Go To" discount campaign remains high. There are also noticeably more people walking around maskless than there were during the first wave of infections.

    "Even if you've gone out socially we'll attend to you. But I want people to understand that the leeway available to us is slowly vanishing," the nurse pleaded.

    Since November started, Kawakita General Hospital in the capital's Suginami Ward has continued to see its beds for coronavirus patients at almost full capacity. The hospital's director Yoichi Sugimura said, "Hospitalizations among older people have increased. The situation is getting close to that experienced during the first wave." He said that what worries him now is the mental strain the work will pile on to doctors, nurses and other professionals.

    To avoid bringing the virus to the hospital, staff in caregiving positions have been limiting their activities including refraining from going on trips or eating out since spring, when the spread of infections accelerated.

    "This is a battle with no end in sight, so the stress level is significant. If we let our guard down, infections will spread further. I want to ask the people of this country to thoroughly carry out basic infection prevention, such as by washing their hands," Sugimura said.

    Hideaki Oka, a professor at Saitama Medical Center's Department of Infectious Disease and Infection Control in the Saitama Prefecture city of Kawagoe, east Japan, who leads the center's coronavirus treatment response, took to his personal Facebook account on Nov. 26 to raise alarm about the current state of the epidemic in Japan.

    "Even here on the ground, we want to go on trips and out drinking. But we control it and resist it; this is a virus frightening enough to cause lockdowns across the world," he wrote. A tweet sharing the post has been retweeted tens of thousands of times.

    In response to a request for comment from the Mainichi Shimbun, professor Oka said, "I worry the societal conversation is proceeding on optimistic arguments that have no basis. I want the government to put out correct information based on data provided by credible experts."

    (Japanese original by Yongho Lee, Machida Resident Bureau, Nobuyuki Shimada, City News Department, and Shoko Washizu, Saitama Bureau)

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