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Osaka Pref. likely to issue 'Red Light' alert over surge in COVID-19 cases within week

Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura is seen explaining that the Osaka Model emergency warning system's Red Light is expected to be triggered within the week, in Osaka on April 5, 2020. (Mainichi/Naohiro Yamada)

OSAKA -- Following a steep rise in hospital bed occupancy by patients with severe cases of COVID-19 in Osaka Prefecture, Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura said April 5 he expects to reach the "Red Light" phase of the "Osaka Model" emergency warning system as early as within the week.

    Osaka Prefecture has seen a sharp increase in coronavirus infections; on the day Gov. Yoshimura made his comments, the prefecture had already reached a 63.8% occupancy rate for hospital beds reserved for patients with serious COVID-19 symptoms. To trigger a Red Light, it would have to reach 70% or higher occupancy.

    Gov. Yoshimura said regarding the situation, "The usage rate of hospital beds for serious patients is on a constant rise, it's almost a straight line up. We'll have to issue a health care system state of emergency declaration within days."

    According to the Osaka Prefectural Government, daily reported infection numbers had been tracking down from their peak in January, during the coronavirus third wave, but after the state of emergency was lifted, they fell to a low of 38 people on March 8.

    But by the middle of the month, cases began rising again, and on April 3 the prefecture confirmed 666 new cases -- its largest single-day increase yet. April 5 saw 341 infections, a rise of 128 on the Monday a week earlier and marking seven consecutive days with higher totals than Tokyo.

    Cases have risen particularly quickly among people aged 10 to 39, and the prefectural government has said that "many confirmed infections are from people who went on trips, or attended farewell parties at the end of the financial year."

    As of April 4, another 100 people had been confirmed to have serious COVID-19 symptoms -- 2.5 times more than the total of 40 people recorded on the week ending March 28. Along with this, although the usage of hospital beds by individuals with severe symptoms reached a low of 24.1% on March 17 and 18, the proportion of filled beds jumped at the end of the month. On April 5, 143 of the 224 beds the prefectural government expects to be able to secure were filled.

    Gov. Yoshimura said that the presence of coronavirus variants may be part of the reason for the spread of infections and rise in serious cases, and that the prefectural government intends to hold a countermeasures taskforce meeting to confirm the state of infections and issue a health care system state of emergency declaration indicating the crisis is pressuring medical institutions.

    Regarding the Osaka Model, the Osaka Prefectural Government issued its first Red Light warning on Dec. 3, 2020, when hospital bed occupancy rates reached 66% and looked very likely to make the 70% or more criteria to trigger it. The warning level was brought down a level, to yellow, at the end of February in accordance with the lifting of the state of emergency.

    (Japanese original by Masaki Ishikawa and Kensuke Yaoi, Osaka City News Department)

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