OBIHIRO, Hokkaido--There is only one hospital in the Obihiro district here capable of treating patients infected with the coronavirus, yet it is having to turn away out-patients without reservations due to a nurse shortage.

Many nurses not showing up for work are being forced to stay at home to care for their school-age children. Hokkaido authorities decided on Feb. 27 to close schools on the main northern island to prevent a further spread of the virus.

Obihiro Kosei Hospital, a 651-bed facility, implemented the new policy from Feb. 28.

The hospital normally sees between 1,500 and 1,600 patients a day, but 200 fewer out-patients were expected under the new policy. The hospital will continue to treat out-patients who had made reservations to see a doctor or were rushed to the hospital with an emergency condition.

The limited policy will continue as long as schools in the Obihiro area remain closed.

The hospital is the only one in the Tokachi region of southeastern Hokkaido with facilities to treat infectious diseases, including the one linked with the coronavirus.

Of the 700 hospital staff, including nurses, about 170, or more than 20 percent, have children in elementary or junior high school.

Hospital officials began rejigging nurse shifts after it became apparent that many nurses with school-age children would not be able to work.

Obihiro not only closed all its schools from Feb. 27, but also after-school care services at schools for students with working parents from the following day. That meant that nurses with children in the lower grades of elementary school were unable to work because they had to care for them.

“We have maintained a medical care structure befitting a core hospital for the region by staffing as many nurses as possible, and we hope people will understand our request that those without pressing health problems refrain from seeking medical care,” a hospital official said.

In Tokyo, the Japan Hospital Association said it was receiving emails from hospitals around Japan describing the problems they faced with staff shortages.

“March is normally a time when many staff quit and is the time of year when staff numbers are at its lowest. More hospitals may stop seeing patients if school closures should spread,” said Takao Aizawa, the association chairman.

Other hospitals expressed fears that anxiety about the coronavirus may lead to further staff shortages.

A nurse in her 40s who works for a Tokyo hospital said staff displaying even the slightest symptoms, such as a fever or respiratory problems, were ordered to remain at home for a specified period to prevent further infections. The hospital had also stopped accepting volunteers who played supportive roles, meaning nurses were forced to take on increased responsibilities.