Doctors in Japan have warned that the country’s medical system may collapse amid a spate of new cases of coronavirus.
Emergency departments were unable to treat some patients with serious health problems due to the additional burden caused by the virus, officials said.
An ambulance carrying a patient with symptoms of coronavirus was turned away by 80 hospitals before it could be seen.
Japan, which initially appeared to be in control, transmitted 10,000 confirmed cases on Saturday.
More than 200 people died with Covid-19 and the capital Tokyo remains the most affected area.
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Groups of doctors in the city’s general practitioners’ offices are helping hospitals test potential coronavirus patients to ease some of the strain on the health care system, officials said.
“It is to prevent the medical system from collapsing,” Konoshin Tamura, deputy head of a general practitioner association, told Reuters news agency.
“Everyone has to reach out. Otherwise, the hospitals would break down, ”he added.
Japan virus response criticized
Analysis by Michael Bristow, editor-in-chief of BBC World Service Asia
This is a blunt warning.
Two medical associations have said that the coronavirus epidemic is reducing the ability of Japanese hospitals to handle other serious medical emergencies.
Hospitals are already refusing patients, all while the number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 remains relatively low compared to other countries.
Doctors have complained about a lack of protective equipment, suggesting that Japan has not prepared well for the virus. This was despite the fact that it was the second country outside China to register an infection last January.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been criticized for failing to introduce restrictions to deal with the epidemic earlier, for fear that it will hurt the economy.
His government argued with the governor of Tokyo, who wanted tougher measures to be introduced more quickly.
It was not until Thursday that Abe extended the state of emergency to the entire country.
The government is also working to increase the test rate by introducing driver service facilities. In recent weeks, Japan has performed far fewer tests than other countries, and experts say it has made it more difficult to track the spread of the disease.
Last month, it only performed 16% of the number of PCR tests performed by South Korea, according to data from the University of Oxford.
And unlike South Korea – which has largely controlled its epidemic through a large-scale testing program – the Japanese government has declared that generalized testing is a “waste of resources”.
Screening is also regulated by local health centers, not at the national government level – and some of these local centers are not equipped to perform large-scale tests.
But on Friday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the government was changing its testing policy and rolling it out more widely.
“With the help of regional medical associations, we are going to set up screening centers,” he said at a press conference.
“If the home doctors have decided that tests are needed, test samples are taken from these centers and sent to private inspection companies,” he said. “Thus, the burden on public health centers will be reduced. “
His comments came shortly after announcing a nationwide emergency due to the worsening epidemic.
The move allowed regional governments to urge people to stay inside, but without punitive measures or legal force. It will remain in effect until May 6.
After the initial state of emergency came into effect on April 8, a number of other regional governors called for the measures to be extended to their regions, saying the cases were increasing and their medical facilities were overwhelmed.
The two emergency medical associations in Japan also issued a joint statement warning them that they “are already feeling the collapse of the emergency medical system.”
And the mayor of Osaka called on people to donate their raincoats, so that they could be used as personal protective equipment (PPE) for health workers who he said were forced to make PPE from trash bags.
In other global developments:
- Singapore’s health ministry confirmed 942 other coronavirus infections on Saturday, a new daily record. Singapore has been praised for managing the epidemic, but the number of cases has recently increased
- The World Health Organization (WHO) has advised countries to chart a cautious path out of the lock-in rather than relying on antibody tests
- US President Donald Trump defended tweets that appeared to encourage protesters to “liberate” states – led by opposition Democrats – where strict lockdowns are in place
- The death toll in the UK has reached 14,576 while 847 new deaths have been reported in hospitals
- And as the number of coronavirus deaths worldwide has exceeded 150,000, more than 4.5 billion people are now living in confinement to slow the pandemic.