Photo/Illutration Osaka Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura speaks at a news conference in Osaka on Nov. 2. Osaka Prefecture’s health care system is close to be overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients. (Takaharu Yagi)

Osaka Prefecture on Dec. 3 was preparing to issue a “state of emergency” over the novel coronavirus pandemic following a surge in new infections and a deepening shortage of hospital beds for COVID-19 patients.

Prefectural officials fear that 70 percent of hospital beds for seriously ill patients will soon be filled if the increase in such patients continues at the current pace.

Under the Osaka prefectural government’s standards on the coronavirus situation, the most serious stage, requiring the issuance of a “red alert,” is reached when 70 percent of beds for those with serious symptoms are occupied.

Under the red alert, which is like a state of emergency, authorities will request closures of facilities where infection clusters have occurred or were suspected to have taken place.

Restrictions will be placed on trips that cross the prefectural border, and Osaka officials will ask elderly people not to leave their homes for services at nursing care facilities.

Although prefectural officials are scrambling to secure more hospital beds, they have been unable to keep up with the rising numbers of serious cases.

Osaka Prefecture describes patients as seriously ill if their treatment requires ventilators, intubation, an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) device, which circulates blood through an artificial lung, or care in intensive care units. 

The prefecture has reported a steep rise in COVID-19 patients since mid-November due in part to outbreaks at facilities for elderly people.

On Nov. 1, 26 patients with serious symptoms occupied 12.6 percent of the 216 hospital beds for such patients. But the number jumped to a record 131, or 63.6 percent, of the beds, on Dec. 2.

Osaka Prefecture on Dec. 3 reported 386 new COVID-19 cases, the third straight day the count has exceeded 300.

In another urban center on Dec. 3, Tokyo reported 533 new COVID-19 cases, the second straight day for the count to hit the 500 mark, metropolitan government officials said.

The number of serious cases was down by five from the previous day to 54.

Unlike other prefectures, Tokyo’s definition of serious cases applies only to patients requiring ventilators or an ECMO device.

Of the newly confirmed patients in the capital, a single-day high of 89 were 65 years old or older, an age group most at risk of developing serious symptoms.

Patients in their 20s formed the largest group, with 114, followed by 93 patients in their 30s, 89 patients in their 40s and 81 patients in their 50s.