Virus puts Tokyo healthcare system under pressure

A further 89 people were confirmed to be infected with the coronavirus on Friday in Tokyo, and it's fueling concerns about the capacity of the capital's healthcare system.

Already feeling the pressure

The Tama Medical Center has been treating people for the coronavirus since February. On Thursday it had 10 inpatients but plans to expand its capacity to 60. As the number of cases grows, though, staff are wondering whether that will be enough.

exterior of Tama center
Tokyo Metropolitan Tama Medical Center is planning to increase its capacity to deal with coronavirus patients.

They're also concerned about supplies of masks and other medical supplies, as well as the capacity for patients with other conditions.

Hospital president Kondo Taiji says it will hurt the community if they have to devote all their resources to battling this virus, and he's urging to government to do more to help.

President Kondo Taiji
President Kondo Taiji is worried his hospital will soon be overwhelmed with coronavirus patients.

Urgent call to increase capacity

The Tokyo metropolitan government says there are about 700 hospital beds for coronavirus patients.
As of Wednesday, 531 of them were occupied.
The metropolitan government says it has plans to secure another 3,300 beds.

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has drawn up guidelines for who should be admitted to hospitals. They say people with mild or no symptoms should receive treatment at home or in other accommodation. It also called on local governments to make preparations, such as securing accommodation facilities.

Tokyo's leaders say they're working on a plan to lease hotels to house such patients.

A warning from abroad

In the United States, where Johns Hopkins University says there are now 230,000 cases nationwide, medical systems are already being pushed to the brink of collapse. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo says if the current rate of hospitalizations continues, the state will run out of ventilators by the middle of next week, and will be unable to save the lives of seriously ill patients.

press conference of expert panel
A panel of experts says prefectures with major cities could soon find themselves short of essential equipment.

A Japanese government panel has warned that prefectures with large cities could soon be overwhelmed in the same way, and says urgent measures must be taken within a couple of days.

Dr. Ohmagari Norio of the National Center for Global Health and Medicine says the city is at a critical juncture where overshoot -- an explosion of coronavirus cases -- is possible.

He also says the burden will soon be too much for specialist hospitals like his, and general hospitals must also begin offering medical care for coronavirus patients.

Japan's government is urging manufacturers to increase the production of ventilators and life-support systems. But the hospitals still need specialists trained to operate the technology.

Every day brings a new raft of infections, and people in the healthcare industry are sounding the alarm. Dr Ohmagari says there's still hope the worst-case scenario can be avoided, but everyone in Tokyo must play by the social distancing and hygiene rules.

Watch video: 02:38
Dr. Ohmagari Norio of the National Center for Global Health and Medicine.