Head in the sand

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Head in the sand

The author is a Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

A woman makes a protective suit using thick poly plastic bags. She creates a pattern on a cardboard box, and the plastic sticks to the pattern when heat is applied using a hair dryer. Cut it with scissors, and you’ve got a protective suit. Workers at a hospital in Osaka, Japan, made 4,000 of them in three days. You would think they must be furious, but they smiled and said that it good enough for medical use. They may have some resignation, yet it is still a strange scene.

In the medical world, people are saying that the medical system has begun to collapse. The medical supplies and workforce reached the limit. After Covid-19 infections were confirmed in at least 13 hospitals in Tokyo, normal operations have been nearly suspended. Japan’s biggest cancer center even decided to halt 80 percent of surgeries. In Osaka, 3rd- and 4th-level medical facilities have shut down. The head of the Japan Medical Association requested the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare postpone all nonemergency surgeries.

A 56-year-old man in Tokyo suspected he had contracted Covid-19 and called the public health center multiple times. He got tested after six days but he died at home alone before receiving the result. Another man in his 50s died while waiting for a hospital bed to become available.

All the incidents boil down to passive Covid-19 testing in Japan. In a recent interview with the JoongAng Ilbo, Yasuharu Tokuda, head of the Muribushi Okinawa Postgraduate Clinical Training Center, said, “The medical system was collapsing because testing was not offered. As the number of infected people grew, the number of serious cases increased and death toll rose.” He added that the number of people who contracted the virus in Japan would be 12 times more than confirmed cases.

Ozaki Haruo, head of the Tokyo Medical Association, also stressed in an interview that testing should be expanded immediately as the policy to test only patients with serious symptoms was wrong.

However, the Japanese government is busy doing everything but expanding testing. Like an ostrich with its head in the sand, Japan is not looking at the cause of the problem. Still it claims it does not have a problem. The chief cabinet secretary said in a news conference on April 20 that the policy to conduct testing only when the doctor requests it remained unchanged. That would not change even if patients increase further. Testing is monopolized by the National Institute of Infectious Diseases. But now, the government is putting the blame on medical professionals to dodge public criticism.

I am worried that if Covid-19 does not slow down, Japan will blame the people who did not reduce their contact with others by 80 percent and the legal system that does not allow for cities to be locked down.

The incompetency of the Japanese government to respond to a disaster was revealed after the Tohoku Earthquake of 2011. The Covid-19 crisis is asking whether Tokyo is capable of protecting people’s health. Disappointment is growing as the government is inconsistent and avoids accountability.

JoongAng Ilbo, April 24, Page 28
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