Japan Adding 9,000 Hospital Beds Across Nation Ahead of New COVID Surge

The Japanese government is preparing for a new surge of COVID-19 cases by adding thousands of new beds across the country's hospitals, the Associated Press reported.

The addition of 9,000 hospital beds is part of a new coronavirus roadmap adopted Friday by key ministers of Japan's Cabinet. The roadmap says that the government will be able to provide more beds for those infected with COVID-19 in the event that a surge occurs again. With this measure, up to 37,000 patients can be treated in hospitals.

"It is important to anticipate a worst-case scenario and take concrete actions to prepare for a next expansion of the infections," Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said during the meeting. "We will promptly secure the medical systems, ensure the process of prevention, detection and early treatment by promoting vaccination, testing and oral pills, in order to reduce the risks of serious cases."

This decision comes after a devastating surge the country experienced in mid-August, when cases increased to about 25,000 daily. Patients were unable to seek treatment due to the lack of available beds. Some smaller hospitals were unable to treat COVID-19 patients due to a lack of resources.

Kishida was sworn in as prime minister on October 4. He succeeded Yoshihide Suga, whose response to the COVID-19 pandemic was criticized as "too little and too slow," according to AP.

Nearly 75 percent of Japan's population is fully vaccinated. Booster shots are expected to roll out next month.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Restrictions on dining out and other everyday activities have been eased after Japan's daily coronavirus cases reached their lowest levels in more than a year and nearly 75 percent of the population is vaccinated against COVID-19. Above, residents move along the sidewalk as the sun sets in the Aoyama area of Tokyo on November 10, 2021. AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato

Some COVID-19 patients during the August surge were dependent on oxygen deliveries.

Even though Japan has a reasonable health insurance system and the world's largest number of beds per capita, COVID-19 patients were admitted to only a fraction of the beds, mostly at public, university and major private hospitals. The government has provided subsidies to lure more hospitals to treat such patients, but progress is slow, triggering calls for tougher measures in an emergency.

Some prefectures have set up systems where those hospitals would accept patients who are no longer infectious and rehabilitating from serious illness after treatment at bigger hospitals.

This prompted the government to set up several medical facilities to accept patients requiring medical attention while waiting for hospital vacancies. Kishida said the government will nearly double the capacity of makeshift hospitals to 3,400, and increase capacity at hotels, where patients with less serious cases can stay, to 61,000 rooms.

With the risk of developing serious cases reduced because of vaccinations, more patients are likely to have slight symptoms that won't require hospitalization, and more attention should go to patients at home, experts say.

"It seems securing hospital beds is overemphasized," said Koji Wada, a public health professor at the International University of Health and Welfare. "Examples in other countries with vaccination progress suggest patients staying at home are likely to increase, and preparations for that seems lacking."

The government will have 32,000 primary care doctors and medical institutions monitor or provide medical consultations online for patients at home to address their unease, Kishida said.

The roadmap also pledges the government will secure up to 1.6 million doses of oral medicine to treat COVID-19 and get their approval by the end of this year. The pills are largely for patients with slight symptoms who are expected to stay home, though that would require monitoring by medical staff.

The government aims to gradually expand social and economic activities but is still careful about easing border control for foreign tourism.