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More hospital beds, meds for 1.6 mil. people among Japan gov't prep for 6th COVID wave

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, second from right, speaks at a meeting of the coronavirus response headquarters at the prime minister's office on Nov. 12, 2021. (Mainichi/Kan Takeuchi)

TOKYO -- The Japanese government decided Nov. 12 on its overall measures in preparation for a sixth wave of coronavirus infections feared to come this winter. The plan includes increasing COVID-19 patient hospital bed numbers and securing medicine to treat the disease.

    Among the measures, it has agreed to set aside about 45,000 hospital beds to accommodate some 37,000 coronavirus patients, 30% more patients than in this summer's peak. By starting to offer third vaccine booster shots and securing medicine, the government is aiming for a "new normal" where people can continue economic and social activities with lowered infection risks.

    It was also specified that if infections spread more than expected, the government will ask people to limit their activities and take the responsibility of restricting general medical care. The measures were finalized at a coronavirus response headquarters meeting at the prime minister's office on the morning of Nov. 12.

    Based on the assumption hospitalizations will increase by 20% of the fifth wave's summer peak, the central government has asked prefectures across Japan to secure necessary numbers of beds. There are expected to be about 6,000 more beds available than there were in September, with some 1,800 of them at temporary medical facilities. Local governments aim to reach agreements with individual medical institutions by the end of November on bed numbers and conditions for accepting patients.

    To improve patient acceptance, the government has requested an 80% or more hospital bed utilization rate when infections spread greatly. This is due to a series of cases where hospitals claimed to have coronavirus-patient beds while actually being unable to offer them. Each medical institution's utilization rates and other information will be released monthly.

    The fifth wave also saw many patients die at home unable to be hospitalized. As a result, overnight care facility rooms will be increased by about 14,000 to a rough total of 61,000. Additionally, some 32,000 medical institutions will be tapped to make house calls or provide home nursing care to people recuperating at home.

    Regarding medical personnel shortages, medical institutions will be able to up their bed numbers by making advance plans for securing beds and coordinating personnel to do so. A system for temporary medical facilities will be created for dispatching personnel under local government coordination. Furthermore, when infections spread, the central government will also request restrictions on general medical care in areas where the infections are low, and that hospital beds are secured by dispatching personnel in a wide area among prefectures.

    Second COVID-19 vaccine shots will generally be completed by the end of November. Third booster shots will be open to all who want them from as early as December, and workplace vaccinations will also be available from next March. Some 200,000 people will be able to receive oral medication that prevents serious symptoms by the end of 2021, with 400,000 gaining access by the end of March 2021. When including numbers for 2022 fiscal year, too, the government aims to obtain total supplies for 1.6 million people.

    Furthermore, the Japanese government will support the expansion of free COVID-19 testing for people who cannot be vaccinated due to pre-existing medical conditions. It will also back free testing for asymptomatic people at prefectural governments' discretion during periods where infections are spreading.

    (Japanese original by Shunsuke Kamiashi, Lifestyle and Medical News Department)

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