Japan hotels in deadlock as mild, asymptomatic coronavirus patients choose to cure at home instead

Many more mildly ill or asymptomatic COVID-19 patients in Japan are choosing to self-isolate at home rather than hiding in hotels, leaving the accommodations intended for them with abysmal occupancy rates, recent figures show.

Statistics from the Ministry of Health as of April 28 showed that of the 8,711 official COVID-19 patients nationwide, only 862 were recovering in hotels for people with mild illness.

A separate survey released by the ministry around the same time found that 12,090 hotel rooms were available for patients across the country, indicating a miserable 7% occupancy rate. The number of patients in hotels, in fact, is paltry compared to the number of patients cured at home, which stood at 1,984, according to the figures.

Tokyo, for example, has more home patients, 635, than any other prefecture, compared to just 198 in hotels.

The ministry and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government support the position that mildly ill patients should be sent to hotels rather than recuperate at home in order to avoid spreading the disease to family members. Staffed with doctors and nurses who perform daily checkups, hotels are seen as essential in preventing those who live alone from going unnoticed if they fall seriously ill.

The initial policy of the central government was to hospitalize all patients with COVID-19, but as it became clear that the country’s medical system was overwhelmed, it changed course to refer mild patients to hotels and homes. . But as reports of patients infecting family members or seeing their health deteriorate, the ministry has further adjusted its policy to prioritize hotel stays.

Authorities attribute the choice of patients to homes over hotels to factors such as the need to care for sick parents, children and pets. Since patients are not responsible for hotel costs, money is probably not an issue, they say.

In Tokyo, public health centers have been instructed to persuade people with mild symptoms to opt for hotels, “but since their recommendation is not legally binding, there is nothing they can do when patients refuse to go. comply, “said a metropolitan official.

“It is certainly a dilemma for them.”

Partly in a bid to remedy the situation, the health ministry on Wednesday issued a notice to all prefectures that they are now empowered to designate hotels as “makeshift medical facilities” in accordance with revised emergency legislation. .

Such a designation would effectively give the prefectures the power to order that patients be “hospitalized” in hotels, even if refusals will still not be accompanied by sanctions. However, the move should at least give more weight to the words of public health centers by legally endorsing their recommendations and, hopefully, go a long way in helping more widespread use of public housing, a health ministry official said.

“I don’t think the notice will solve the problem immediately, but it will at least give public health centers the ability to claim that patients are now legally obligated to stay in hotels,” the official said.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike is also aware of the problem, listing a list of measures the metropolitan government is taking to make hotel use easier, at a press conference earlier this month.

To allay concerns about the possibility of leaving pets unattended, Koike said the city has launched a hotline for pet owners and is seeking cooperation from the Tokyo Veterinary Medical Association.

Public health centers also work with child protection centers to arrange accommodation for children in medical facilities and other facilities while their parents are away.

Since people locked in hotels are susceptible to stress, the Tokyo Medical Association offers telephone consultations with psychiatrists, Koike added. Some hotels are even deploying robots to serve as receptionists to greet patients and clean their rooms, she added.

“We want their stay in hotels to be as stress free as possible,” said Koike.

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About Mohammed B. Hale

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