Hospitals in Japan’s second-largest city Osaka are buckling under huge wave of new coronavirus infections, running out of beds and ventilators as exhausted medics warn of ‘system collapse’ and advise against holding of the Olympic Games this summer.
The western region of Japan, with a population of 9 million, suffers the hardest from the fourth wave of the pandemic, accounting for a third of the country’s death toll in May, despite making up only 7% of its population .
The speed at which Osaka’s healthcare system has been overwhelmed underscores the challenges of hosting a major world sporting event in two months, especially as only about half of Japan’s medical staff have completed vaccinations. .
“Simply put, this is a collapse of the medical system,” said Yuji Tohda, director of Kindai University Hospital in Osaka.
“The highly contagious British variant and slippery vigilance have led to this explosive growth in patient numbers. “
Japan has avoided major infections in other countries, but the fourth pandemic wave has taken Osaka prefecture by storm, with 3,849 new positive tests from the week to Thursday.
This represents a jump of more than five times compared to the corresponding period of three months ago.
Only 14% of the prefecture’s 13,770 COVID-19 patients have been hospitalized, leaving the majority to fend for themselves. Tokyo’s latest hospitalization rate, by comparison, is 37%.
A government advisory committee sees rates below 25% as a trigger to consider imposing a state of emergency.
As of Thursday, 96% of the 348 hospital beds reserved in Osaka for severe virus cases were in use. Since March, 17 people have died of the disease outside prefecture hospitals, officials said this month.
The variant can make even young people very ill quickly, and once critically ill patients struggle to recover, said Toshiaki Minami, director of Osaka University Medical and Pharmaceutical Hospital (OMPUH).
“I believe that until now many young people thought they were invincible. But that cannot be the case this time around. Everyone carries the risk equally. “
Minami said a supplier recently told him stocks of propofol, a key drug used to put intubated patients to sleep, are very low, while Tohda hospital lacks vital ventilators for critically ill COVID patients. 19.
Caring for critically ill patients at risk of infection has taken its toll on staff, said Satsuki Nakayama, chief of nursing at the OMPUH.
“Intensive Care Unit (ICU) staff say they have reached a breaking point,” she added. “I need to think about the change of staff to bring in people from other wings of the hospital. “
About 500 doctors and 950 nurses work at the OMPUH, which manages 832 beds. Ten of its 16 intensive care beds have been dedicated to patients infected with the virus. Twenty of the 140 or so serious patients admitted to the hospital died in the intensive care unit.
Yasunori Komatsu, who heads a union of regional government employees, said conditions were also dire for public health nurses at local health centers, who act as a liaison between patients and medical institutions.
“Some of them are accumulating 100, 150, 200 hours of overtime, and it’s been going on for a year now… when they’re on duty, sometimes they go home at one or two in the morning and only go to bed. being woken up by a phone call at three or four o’clock. ”
Health professionals with first-hand experience in Osaka’s fight against the pandemic have a negative opinion of the Tokyo Games, which will take place from July 23 to August 8.
“The Olympics should be stopped because we have already failed to stop the flow of new variants from England, and the next one could be an influx of Indian variants,” said Akira Takasu, head of medicine. emergency at the OMPUH.
He was referring to a variant first discovered in India that the World Health Organization (WHO) identified as being of concern after initial studies showed it spread more easily.
“At the Olympics, 70,000 or 80,000 athletes and people will come to this country from all over the world. It could be the trigger for yet another disaster this summer. “
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