Japan Thought Virus Was Under Control. Now, 'Cries of Desperation'

COVID-19 infections are surging, country's emergency medical system is collapsing
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 18, 2020 5:30 AM CDT
He Had Signs of the Virus. He Was Rejected by 80 Hospitals
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe removes a face mask during a news conference at the prime minister's official residence in Tokyo on Friday.   (Kiyoshi Ota/Pool Photo via AP)

Hospitals in Japan are increasingly turning away sick people as the country struggles with surging coronavirus infections and its emergency medical system collapses. In one recent case, an ambulance carrying a man with a fever and difficulty breathing was rejected by 80 hospitals and forced to search for hours for a hospital in downtown Tokyo that would treat him, per the AP. Another feverish man finally reached a hospital after paramedics unsuccessfully contacted 40 clinics. The Japanese Association for Acute Medicine and the Japanese Society for Emergency Medicine say many hospital ERs are refusing to treat people, including those suffering strokes, heart attacks, and external injuries. Japan initially seemed to have controlled the outbreak by going after clusters of infections in specific places, usually enclosed spaces such as clubs, gyms, and meeting venues.

But the spread of virus outpaced this approach, and most new cases are untraceable. The outbreak has highlighted underlying weaknesses in medical care in Japan, which has long been praised for its high-quality insurance system and reasonable costs. Apart from a general unwillingness to embrace social distancing, experts fault government incompetence and a widespread shortage of the protective gear and equipment medical workers need to do their jobs. The "collapse of emergency medicine" has already happened, a precursor to the overall collapse of medicine, the JAAM and the JSEM said in a joint statement. Tokyo's new cases started to spike in late March. They've been rising at an accelerating pace, for a current total of 2,595. "From the medical field, we are hearing cries of desperation that lives that can be saved may no longer be possible," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Friday. "I ask you all again, please refrain from going out." More here. (More Japan stories.)

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