Photo/Illutration A Self-Defense Forces vehicle leaves Daikoku Futo pier at Yokohama Port where the Diamond Princess cruise ship was placed under quarantine following a mass outbreak of new coronavirus infections. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

The Self-Defense Forces will provide 10 nurses and other health care professionals to rescue the Hokkaido city of Asahikawa's medical care structure from collapse following a third wave of novel coronavirus.

In Osaka, Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura has already asked Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi to dispatch SDF medical care professionals to his jurisdiction because close to 70 percent of hospital beds set aside for COVID-19 patients with severe symptoms are filled.

The dispatch of two teams of five health care professionals each to Asahikawa was agreed on after talks Dec. 6 between Asahikawa Mayor Masahito Nishikawa and Hokkaido Governor Naomichi Suzuki.

Among the eight infection clusters in Asahikawa, the situation at the Asahikawa-Kosei General Hospital is especially dire. The 237 confirmed cases there make it one of the largest known clusters in the country. The hospital was designated as one of the core medical facilities in the central Hokkaido city to deal with the novel coronavirus.

But even though the hospital has 499 beds, it is unable to accept new in-patients or treat out-patients because staff are too busy coping with the COVID-19 cases. That in turn has had a severe impact on the health care structure in the city.

Another large cluster occurred at Yoshida Hospital, where 187 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed.

The hospital has 40 patients with the novel coronavirus who cannot be transferred to another medical institution for more specialized treatment, according to a local public health office.

And while nurses at the hospital normally would look after two patients each to provide appropriate care, the shortage of medical care workers means that each nurse now cares for an average of about 1.5 patients.

At a Dec. 5 meeting of Asahikawa public health officials and those dispatched to the city as part of emergency response teams from the health ministry and Japan Medical Association, general agreement was reached that 24 health care professionals were needed at Yoshida Hospital and other medical institutions in Asahikawa.

The Osaka prefectural government is planning to open a facility exclusively for COVID-19 patients with severe symptoms on Dec. 15, but a nursing shortage means that not all 30 beds can be used immediately.

A prefectural government official dealing with the health crisis said it was proposed that doctors and nurses be brought over from Australia because of the relatively low number of infections in the Southern Hemisphere.

As of Dec. 5, Yoshimura had made requests for the dispatch of health care professionals to not only Kishi, but also the Union of Kansai Governments and the National Governors’ Association.

Yoshimura has been in close contact with Yasutoshi Nishimura, the state minister for economic revitalization who is in charges of dealing with the pandemic, about the possibility of dispatching health care professionals to Osaka.

(This article was written by Daijiro Honda, Sen Inoue and Yusuke Morishita.)