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No one's safe anymore: Japan's Osaka city crumples under COVID-19 onslaught

Berita 24 English -  Hospitals in Osaka, Japan's second-largest city, collapses under the weight of a massive new coronavirus outbreak, ...

Berita 24 English - 
Hospitals in Osaka, Japan's second-largest city, collapses under the weight of a massive new coronavirus outbreak, running out of beds and ventilators as exhausted doctors warn of a "system collapse" and advise against holding the Olympics this summer.

Japan's western region, home to 9 million people, bears the brunt of the pandemic's fourth wave, accounting for a third of the country's death toll in May despite comprising only 7% of the population.

The rapid devastation of Osaka's healthcare system demonstrates the difficulties inherent in hosting a major global sporting event in less than two months, particularly given that only about half of Japan's medical staff has completed inoculations.

"Simply put, this is a medical system collapse," Yuji Tohda, director of Osaka's Kindai University Hospital, said.

"The highly infectious British variant and deteriorating alertness have resulted in this explosive increase in patient numbers."

Japan has escaped the massive infections that have struck other countries, but the fourth pandemic wave swept through Osaka prefecture, with 3,849 new positive tests in the week ending Thursday.

This is a more than fivefold increase over the same period three months ago.

Only 14% of the 13,770 COVID-19 patients in the prefecture have been hospitalized, leaving the majority to fend for themselves. By comparison, Tokyo's latest hospitalization rate is 37%.

Rates of less than 25%, according to a government advisory panel, are a trigger for considering the imposition of a state of emergency.

By Thursday, 96 per cent of Osaka's 348 reserve hospital beds for serious virus cases had been filled. Since March, officials reported this month, 17 people have died of the disease outside of the prefecture's hospitals.

Even young people can become severely ill from the variant, and once seriously ill, patients have a difficult time recovering, according to Toshiaki Minami, director of the Osaka Medical and Pharmaceutical University Hospital (OMPUH).

"I believe that many young people believed they were invincible until recently. However, that cannot be the case this time. Everyone bears an equal share of the risk."


Minami stated that a supplier recently informed him that propofol, a critical medication used to sedate intubated patients, is running low, while Tohda's hospital is running low on ventilators required for critically ill COVID-19 patients.

Caring for critically ill patients while avoiding infection has taken a significant toll on staff, according to Satsuki Nakayama, head of the nursing department at OMPUH.

"I've received reports from some intensive care unit (ICU) staff that they've reached a breaking point," she continued. "I need to consider personnel changes that will allow me to bring in staff from other hospital wings."

OMPUH employs approximately 500 physicians and 950 nurses and operates an 832-bed facility. Ten of the ICU's sixteen beds have been reserved for virus patients. Twenty of the hospital's approximately 140 serious patients died in the intensive care unit.

Yasunori Komatsu, president of a union representing regional government employees, said conditions were also dire for public health nurses at community health centres who serve as a link between patients and medical institutions.

"Some of them have racked up 100, 150, or 200 hours of overtime in less than a year...when on duty, they occasionally return home at one or two a.m. and retire to bed only to be awakened by a phone call at three or four."

Medical professionals with firsthand knowledge of Osaka's pandemic struggle have expressed reservations about hosting the Tokyo Games, scheduled to take place from July 23 to August 8.

"The Olympics should be halted, as we have already failed to halt the flow of new variants from England, and the next step could be an inflow of Indian variants," said Akira Takasu, head of emergency medicine at OMPUH.

He referred to a variant discovered in India and designated as a cause for concern by the World Health Organization (WHO) after initial studies revealed it spreads more easily.

"70,000 or 80,000 athletes and spectators from all over the world will descend on this country for the Olympics. This could serve as a catalyst for another disaster this summer."

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