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Editorial: Urgent response needed to prevent collapse of Japan's medical system

The spread of the novel coronavirus is continuing in Japan, and a government subcommittee of experts has advised the government to step up countermeasures.

    In "Stage 3" regions where infections are increasing rapidly, the panel suggested that restaurants be requested to shorten their hours even further, and that the "Go To Travel" subsidy campaign designed to spur demand in the travel sector be suspended temporarily.

    "Overall, we cannot necessarily say that efforts to decrease the number of new infections are succeeding," the experts said in an assessment of the situation.

    The government should take the suggestions to heart and act swiftly. The stance that has been adopted to date of leaving the response in the hands of local bodies must be amended.

    Medical facilities, in particular, have been strained by the pandemic. As the coronavirus has spread to older people, severe COVID-19 patient numbers remain high, hovering over 500.

    In Osaka Prefecture, over 80% of beds for people with severe COVID-19 are effectively full.

    Meanwhile, the city of Asahikawa in Japan's northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido has recently seen major clusters of infections at two hospitals, with over 200 cases at each institution, and over 50 people have died.

    A lack of nurses has stood out. Osaka and Asahikawa have had nurses dispatched from the Self-Defense Forces. But this is a last resort, and there is a limit to the number of medical workers that can be sent.

    To overcome the "third wave" of infections that has hit the country, there is a need to step up the dispatch of support personnel beyond prefectural boundaries. The Japanese Nursing Association is preparing such a system. Prompt cooperation from prefectural governments and medical institutions is indispensable.

    The government should create an environment that makes it easy to send workers. Enhanced financial support should be provided to cooperating medical institutions. It is also important to inform support staff of a compensation system in the event they are infected with the coronavirus.

    Meanwhile, to cover other areas of medical treatment where shortages of staff have been seen due to workers being sent elsewhere to deal with the pandemic, the government needs to provide support to enable former nurses to return to work.

    Medical workers have stood on the front lines to save lives. Working clad in protective gear wears them down significantly, both mentally and physically. And due to fears of infection, close contact with their families is extremely limited. Additionally, the problem of discrimination against medical workers has not been solved. It is import to provide psychological and material support to these workers.

    The government should be doing all it can to prepare a system to counter the virus ahead of the cold winter months. We cannot deny that it has been lax in its outlook. Measures need to be formulated quickly to prevent a collapse of Japan's medical system.

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