Japan's health ministry has asked prefectural governments to secure more hospital beds for a possible surge in coronavirus infections.
Last June, the ministry estimated hospitalizations at the peak of infections, and urged prefectures to secure beds accordingly.
But the third wave of infections pushed cases to record highs across Japan. The national daily tally topped 7,000 in early January. The surge strained the healthcare system, as hospitals were unable to use some vacant beds due to staff shortages. Many beds also remained occupied by patients whose symptoms had improved, as it was difficult to find hospitals to accept such patients.
The health ministry on Wednesday urged prefectures to review their plans for securing hospital beds.
It asked them to draw up by the end of next month emergency measures such as delaying hospitalizations and surgery for non-coronavirus patients, based on an assumption that the number of daily infections will double from the peak of the third wave.
The ministry says restrictions on general medical care would be temporary.
The ministry also asked prefectures to draw up by the end of May plans to secure more beds through cooperation among hospitals, such as by playing different roles in dealing with coronavirus cases.