Japan's Healthcare System Struggles With the Upsurge of New COVID-19 Cases
Thu, September 29, 2022

Japan's Healthcare System Struggles With the Upsurge of New COVID-19 Cases


Ayako Kajiwara, the lead nurse at a hospital in Saitama prefecture, sees the ICU is struggling to treat critically ill COVID-19 patients. Fearful of Japan’s medical system capability to handle a surge in new cases, she said, "It's hard because we think the patient is improving, but then they'll suddenly take a turn for the worse."

The spike in COVID-19 cases led Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to declare a state of emergency in the whole country. The declaration was initially applicable to seven prefectures. Given that, he vowed to provide medical equipment such as surgical masks, gowns, and face shields to hospitals struggling with gear shortages within seven days. However, a team of government experts noted that most deaths could occur due to a lack of ventilators.

Government Satisfaction and the Surrender of Human Rights

The Gallup International Association, an association of polling organizations registered in Zurich, Switzerland, surveyed nearly 25,000 people in 28 countries. Austrians appeared to be the most satisfied with the reaction of their state authorities, as 88% of them expressed different approval of their government measures. The country was followed by India (83%), Palestine (80%), and the Netherlands (79%).

The least satisfied was Thailand, with 76% of its citizens noting that they rather or completely disagree with the statement that their authorities are doing well in the current situation. It was followed by Japan, with 62% satisfied with state measures and 23% not satisfied. The US had 42% satisfied with state measures and 46% dissatisfied. In Germany, 47% said state measures are adequate while 44% expressed the opposite.

32% of respondents in Japan were ready to sacrifice their liberties and rights to curb the spread of COVID-19, while 49% were not ready. The rest of the respondents were hesitating. Meanwhile, 45% of US respondents were ready while 38% were not ready. The rest were hesitating. The highest levels of readiness were observed in Austria (95%), N. Macedonia (94%), and the Netherlands (91%).

82% of the public believed that the government should compensate businesses that have complied with a request to suspend operations as a response to a spike in COVID-19 cases in Tokyo and other parts of Japan, as found by a Kyodo News survey, cited Jiji Kyodo of Japan Times, the country’s largest and oldest English-language daily newspaper. 12.4% of respondents said it was not needed.

Conducted via phone call, 80.4% of participants from across Japan said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s declaration of a state of emergency in Tokyo, Osaka, and five other prefectures were too late. 16.3% said Abe’s declaration was an appropriate act. 75.1% appreciated Abe’s declaration while 20.8% did not appreciate it.  

When asked if the number of new COVID-19 cases would fall during the month-long state of emergency, 26.5% said yes and 68.9% said they did not think it would. 76.2% did not appreciate the government’s decision to send two cloth masks to about 50 million households in the country and 21.6% appreciated it.  

Regarding the government’s decision to provide ¥300,000 to some households to reduce the impact of the outbreak, 20.4% said it was appropriate while 10.7% said the amount was not enough. A total of 60.9% believed that the government should provide a uniform cash aid to each household.  72.1% said they do not expect much from the government’s ¥108 trillion stimulus package unlike 72.1% of those who expected much from it.



Shortage of Equipment and Hospital Clusters

Such shortages became more apparent when Osaka mayor Ichiro Matsui encouraged people to donate unused raincoats for healthcare workers to use as personal protective equipment after they were forced to trash bags. Medical shortages along with low testing rates and lack of provision for teleworking could lead to the upsurge of coronavirus cases.

Medical workers are also reusing N95 masks and constructing their own face shields, reported Mari Yamaguchi and Yuri Kageyama of Global news, a new network in Canada. The country is also facing a shortage of hospital beds and medical workers. Infection clusters are forming in Japan’s hospitals. 87 new cases were reported among doctors, nurses, and inpatients at a hospital in Nakano Ward, Tokyo on April 12, as said by the Tokyo metropolitan government. The clusters could entail community transmission.

Kenji Shibuya, director of the Institute for Population Health at King's College London and former chief of health policy at the World Health Organization (WHO), said testing should not be in clinics and hospitals. He added, “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.”

In recent weeks, paramedic Sho Hayakwa witnessed a steady increase in COVID-19 patients at his hospital in Yokohama. He is worried about bringing the virus home to his wife and child, but he is “being extra careful.” Meanwhile, Tokyo and Osaka transferred patients with mild COVID-19 symptoms to hotels to reduce the strain on hospitals. Other prefectures are expected to undertake the same measure soon.



Increased Workload for Japan’s Medical Professionals

Anesthesiologist Mio Shin said she took on her colleague’s workload because he had to self-quarantine after working with a doctor from another hospital who was suspected of having the virus. Shin reasoned, “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.”

As more health professionals are needed to take care of COVID-19 patients, there will be fewer medical workers who will cater to cancer and infertility treatment, including maternity care and heart surgery, Shine added.



A Change In Public Messaging

Virologist at Kyoto University Takayuki Miyazawa said that in order for the government to contain the virus, it needs to be honest with its citizens about what life with the virus will look like in the future, which will involve remote working and social distancing.

Miyazawa added, “Politicians are giving people too much hope and telling them to endure the state of emergency just until May 6 when it is expected to lift.” Hence, people think that the pandemic will over by May 6, but they fail to understand that they still need to exercise caution.

Kajiwara reflected that the pandemic made her think that they took things for granted since they were used to living comfortably in Japan. She stated, “I think people are realizing what they need and what's really important to them now.”

Japan’s healthcare system is struggling to cope with the ever-increasing number of patients with COVID-19 due to overcrowded and understaffed hospitals and equipment shortages. It is easy to tell citizens to endure the pandemic, but the Japanese government should explain how life with the pandemic will look in the present and the foreseeable future.