At least one-third of 86 hospitals designated by the Japanese government to provide advanced treatment have been forced to suspend part of their services such as elective surgeries and emergency care to make room for treatment of new coronavirus patients, a recent Kyodo News survey showed.

The government expected such advanced treatment hospitals to play a key role in dealing with severe cases of COVID-19, but they have been forced to accept people with mild symptoms as smaller hospitals were already overloaded.

In the survey conducted between late April and mid-May, 53 of the hospitals responded and 44 of them said they have been accepting coronavirus patients.

(Photo taken May 16, 2020, shows the inside of Osaka City Juso Hospital in the western Japan city, assigned to exclusively treat coronavirus patients with moderate symptoms)

Related coverage:

Novelist Haruki Murakami cheers up people in "stay home" radio amid virus

Japan more likely to completely end virus emergency Monday

Of the 44 hospitals, 29 said they had to free up some of their personnel, beds and equipment needed in advanced treatment to accommodate COVID-19 patients.

Thirty-five hospitals said they have canceled or postponed some surgeries, with one of them saying all surgeries have been put off, while 13 said they have been restricting outpatient visits.

Norio Sugaya, visiting professor at Keio University specializing in infectious diseases, says local governments need to prepare their respective medical systems now for the second wave of the virus outbreak.

"Municipalities should play the central role in keeping track of available hospital beds in their areas and deciding which patient goes to which hospital," he said.