In the past couple of weeks, Japanese cases have increased dramatically contradicting government’s assessment that their timely response have stopped the virus from breeding and spreading in the country. Japan, as of Friday has registered 9,787 confirmed coronavirus cases with 190 new fatalities according to the numbers given by Johns Hopkins University. The picture looks more frightening considering the fact that on March 1, 2020, the country had just 243 confirmed COVID-19 patients.
Ayako Kajiwara, a nurse serving in Saitama prefecture giving her record of the stress on ICU’s said:
“It’s hard because we think the patient is improving, but then they will suddenly take a turn for the worse.”
The spike in number of cases has prompted PM Shinzo Abe to expand the state of emergency from 7 prefectures to whole country. He also announced to provide PPE’s including gowns, surgical masks, face shields and other medical equipment to the hospitals struggling with the shortage of medical supplies within a week.
Earlier this week, experts warned that Japan could have 400,000+ deaths caused by COVID-19, if social distancing guidelines are not implemented across the nation. However, they said that situation may become more complex due to the acute shortage of ventilators resulting in large-scale fatalities as the country is a home to world’s largest elderly population. The inadequacy of supplies became evident when Osaka mayor Ichiro Matsui appealed people to donate unused raincoats which could then be converted into personal protective equipment for health workers who were relying on trash bags.
Experts the shortages of equipment coupled with very low screening and the country’s lack of provision for social distancing measures and disapproval of work-from-home may result in Corona explosion in the Asian country.
Japan’s struggle with the infection are going upwards which is evident through the fact that 87 new cases among doctors, nurses and medical staff emerged at a Tokyo hospital ward on April 12, 2020 according to Tokyo metropolitan government. The detection of clusters in hospitals is worrisome because it can result in further community transmission.
“It’s very important to move testing away from clinics and hospitals,” said Kenji Shibuya, director of the Institute for Population Health at King’s College London and a former chief of health policy at the World Health Organization (WHO).
“The lack of testing in Japan led to widespread community infection. Hospital workers are not prepared as they don’t know the infection status of the patient.”
Paramedic Sho Hayakawa in Yokohama, has witnessed steady climb in the number of new infections at his hospital in recent weeks. As a father, he is worried about the health of his wife and toddler. “I do worry about contracting it, but I’m being extra careful,” he said.
Osaka and Tokyo have started moving mildly affected patients to hotels to lift the stress from hospitals. Hayakawa expects Yokohama and other prefectures will follow the suit. Anesthesiologist Mio Shin told that after her colleague had to go under self-isolation after contacting a suspected spreader, she had to take the workload of her colleague.
Japanese administration has been under scrutiny for their approach towards the disease. The first case is the country emerged in February but the officials instead of expanding the testing channelized their efforts to contain the clusters. Japan has so far screened 90,000 people which is quite less than neighboring South Korea which tested about 513,000 people while it has a population of 51mn compared to that of Japan’s 126mn. Experts on disease fear that the number could already be much higher than that of official numbers floated by the government.
“Many doctors take shifts at different hospitals, so I felt like overstretched clinics across Japan were temporarily losing staff members as they unwittingly came into contact with people who didn’t know they had coronavirus,” Shin said.
The doctor added that as more medical workers are required at hospitals, there will be fewer staff left to deal from cancer, maternity care, and infertility treatment to heart surgery and other healthcare.
“I think people in Japan may not have realized how these absences will affect not only coronavirus treatments, but also everything from infertility and cancer treatments, as other medical workers are needed to care for coronavirus patients,” Shin raised her fears.