The death toll reached 5,000 roughly one year after the first coronavirus case was confirmed in the country. But it has taken only three months for that figure to double. During that span, the virus has hit the elderly particularly hard. Over 66 percent of victims were aged 80 or over; 23 percent were in their 70s; and just over 7 percent were in their 60s.
But Takeda Shinhiro, the head of a medical group that studies coronavirus patient care, says the situation is changing and that young people should be cautious.
“Now variants are affecting patients in their 50s and younger,” he says. “They are developing severe symptoms more frequently than with the initial strain.”
Osaka hospitals under strain
The number of patients in serious condition is also on the rise, particularly in the Kansai region. In Osaka Prefecture, 306 people were in serious condition as of Tuesday. Only 330 beds have been designated for use in such cases throughout the prefecture.
Medical workers are increasingly worried that people may die while waiting to be accepted into a hospital.
“There just aren’t enough beds available in Osaka,” says Yamato Masaya, a doctor at Rinku General Medical Center. “The rotation is so fast. Almost as soon as a bed opens up, we get a call from an ambulance asking whether we can accept a patient.”
The hospital has been hit hard by a variant originally found in the UK. A survey found the strain in 36 out of 37 samples taken from patients.
Yamato worries the death toll will be particularly high in Kansai, where he says, “the medical system is failing.”
Third state of emergency
The central government declared a third state of emergency on Sunday and restrictions this time around are tougher than during the previous measure.
The current declaration will last for 17 days, through May 11. But it could be extended, as was the case for the previous two measures. The first declaration continued for an extra 20 days in Tokyo, the second for an additional month and a half.
“The government's panel of experts says thorough implementation will lead to good results,” minister in charge of coronavirus issues, Nishimura Yasutoshi said during a Sunday news program on NHK.
But some experts worry that two weeks is not long enough.
Nakagawa Toshio, the head of the Japan Medical Association, says the government ended the previous state of emergency prematurely, while the situation was still in the third stage of a four-tier crisis evaluation system, resulting in the current spike in cases.
“We need to wait until stage two this time,” he says.