Photo/Illutration A facility for the elderly in southern Osaka Prefecture notifies in a sign that it is suspending day care services and restricting visitors on March 5. (Atsushi Kawada)

Many nursing homes across Japan are suspending day care services, which is placing many elderly people in dire straits, over concerns that visitors might bring in the new coronoavirus.

Experts warn that the suspensions will result in senior citizens losing access to services such as nursing, bathing and recreational activities.

In Nagoya, 17 infections were confirmed at two facilities providing day care in Midori Ward, according to news reports on March 7.

Nagoya health authorities requested that all 126 nursing facilities offering day services in the ward and neighboring Minami Ward be suspended for two weeks to contain the spread of infections.

This is the nation's first such request affecting facilities in a broad area associated with a novel coronavirus outbreak.

In southern Osaka Prefecture, a company operating a nursing home and providing day services decided in mid-February to stop accepting day care visitors from March, citing high infection risks to the elderly.

“People don’t have easy access to a diagnostic test and there is no established treatment for infected people,” the company president explained.

He said keeping the infection at bay while allowing day care users to visit the facility would be difficult, given that the first floor of the facility is used by both residents and visitors.

“Some residents with dementia roam inside the facility,” he said.

The company explained the measure to families of about 20 day service users. It has not decided until when the service will be suspended.

In Chiba Prefecture, a social welfare corporation running a special nursing home has been suspending day care offered at the home since March 1. The suspension will continue through March 10.

“About 200 older people receive the services over 10 days,” said a senior official with the corporation. “We explained the reason for suspension to the elderly and their families and believe that they showed understanding.”

An official with a bureau for the elderly under the health ministry said the ministry is not considering a blanket ban on day care services due to the coronavirus infection.

Yasuhiro Yuki, professor of social welfare at Shukutoku University, said the decision to suspend day service is understandable, given the risks of infection at facilities providing the service.

He said as infection cases rise further, more day care facilities will suspend the service.

But he expressed concern about the increasing number of elderly who will be cut off from nursing care and proposed a flexible solution to weather the crisis.

“Although under the current set-up it is not permitted, care providers should be allowed to visit homes of users to assist them in eating, taking a bath and other minimum essential activities in life for a certain period,” he said.