Local governments in Japan are scurrying to set up temporary treatment sites for COVID-19 patients as the recent surge in infections has caused a serious shortage of hospital beds across the country, with 25 governments having already opened or are planning to open such facilities, a Kyodo News survey found Saturday.
The nationwide survey, conducted from Aug. 26 to Sept. 2, also found, however, that most of the governments are facing difficulty in securing doctors and health care workers to operate such sites.
Record levels of COVID-19 cases, triggered by the spread of the more transmissible Delta variant of the coronavirus, have outstripped hospital capacities to treat patients in many parts of the country.
Faced with the overwhelmed health care system, the government of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga advised municipalities in early August to give hospital beds only to those showing severe symptoms.
Tokyo and some other large cities have seen a spike in the number of cases where ambulances carrying COVID-19 patients with worsened conditions were turned away by hospitals.
Currently, more than 130,000 COVID-19 patients are recuperating at home in the country.
On Aug. 25, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare asked local governments to establish temporary facilities to look after patients who are unable to find a hospital bed.
Of the governments of 47 prefectures and 20 major cities surveyed, 21 said they are considering setting up such temporary locations. Such sites include so-called oxygen stations, promoted by Suga's government, to treat patients who have been asked to recuperate at home but experience concerns over breathing.
Fukui Prefecture in central Japan, for instance, has begun using a gymnasium as a makeshift hospital, while Ehime Prefecture is renting spaces in hotels for COVID-19 patient treatment.
The number of patients showing severe coronavirus symptoms nationwide stood at a record 2,223 on Saturday, up two from the previous day, according to the health ministry.