Ambulances in Japan struggle to find hospitals for thousands of patients

Japan's emergency officials say the weekly number of cases in which ambulances struggled to find hospitals accepting patients has marked a record high -- surpassing 7,000.

The Fire and Disaster Management Agency says the figure likely rose due to the closure of medical institutions during the year-end period and the spread of coronavirus infections.

The agency records the number of what it calls "difficult transport cases" from 52 emergency headquarters across the country every week. They involve emergency responders having to ask four or more hospitals before a patient can be transported.

Agency officials say there were 7,158 such cases in the week from December 26 to January 1, up 358 from the record set a week earlier.

Coronavirus infections were suspected in 2,311 cases, or about 32 percent.

The latest figure is nearly 4.8 times that of the same week three years ago before the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

The agency plans to coordinate efforts with prefectural authorities while keeping in mind a possible double outbreak of the coronavirus and seasonal flu.