Photo/Illutration The new coronavirus that causes COVID-19 (Provided by the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases)

The health ministry is calling on local governments to to prepare for an expected shortage of hospital beds during the peak of the coronavirus outbreak.

The central government said it had secured more than 5,000 beds at hospitals across the nation to handle patients with COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, as of the end of February.

The number includes beds at medical facilities that are not designated to treat patients with infectious diseases.

Those 5,000 or so beds will not be enough to handle the expected jump in patient numbers, according to the health ministry’s estimates.

Under the current arrangement, all people who are confirmed infected with the new coronavirus must be hospitalized for treatment.

But that system will likely be unsustainable for hospitals as the number of infections grows.

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare’s estimates for the number of coronavirus patients at the peak of the outbreak were formulated through patterns that had emerged among patients in China and Japan as of the end of February.

The formula used the ratio of symptomatic patients among all infection cases and the percentage of symptomatic patients who developed severe symptoms.

The opinions of health experts were also taken into account.

At the peak of the outbreak, the number of patients a day per 100,000 people would be 53 in the 0- to 14-year-old age group, 18 among those aged 15 to 64, and 560 in the age group of 65 or older, according to the ministry.

If demographic shifts shown by the internal affairs ministry on Oct. 1, 2018, are applied, Hokkaido is projected to have 18,300 daily patients visiting hospitals for coronavirus treatment.

Of these patients, 10,200 will require hospitalization and 340 will be seriously ill with COVID-19, according to the forecast.

Hokkaido has been the hardest-hit prefecture, with 101 coronavirus cases as of March 8.
Overall, 1,190 coronavirus infections have been confirmed in Japan.

In Tokyo, with a population of 14 million, 45,400 patients a day are projected to visit hospitals for treatment during the peak of the outbreak. Among them, 20,500 will require hospitalization and 700 will be showing serious symptoms of COVID-19.

The central government has asked local governments to prepare to allow coronavirus patients to be treated at regular hospitals, even if they are not equipped for infectious diseases. They will be asked to take measures to prevent the virus from spreading to patients who are hospitalized for different ailments.

The government said local health authorities must ensure that those suffering from severe pneumonia as a result of infection gain access to intensive care treatment and respirators.

According to health experts, the outbreak will reach a peak “roughly three months” after it becomes impossible to track down the routes of transmission.

But the ministry stressed that the time frame is merely a hypothesis, not a prediction based on hard evidence.

It also said it may review the formula and incorporate the latest expertise and developments into its estimates.

The peak time is expected to vary from region to region, and some areas may escape a widespread outbreak, the ministry said.

It is also possible to delay the peak or lower the peak levels by taking such measures as working from home and canceling events, according to the ministry.