Photo/Illutration Self-Defense Forces nurses arrive at Yoshida Hospital in Asahikawa, Hokkaido, on Dec. 9. (Provided by the Joint Staff Office)

The Defense Ministry announced Dec. 11 it will shortly dispatch seven nurses and other health care professionals to Osaka Prefecture to help medical staff gain the upper hand in the COVID-19 pandemic that threatens to overwhelm hospitals.

The nurses and associate nurses from the Self-Defense Forces will work for two weeks from Dec. 15 at two facilities: a hospital newly built exclusively for COVID-19 patients with severe symptoms in Osaka and the Osaka Prefectural Nakakawachi Emergency and Critical Care Center.

Osaka Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura issued a request for the emergency nursing assistance early Dec. 11.

The two nurses and five associate nurses will assist doctors treating cases and handle special breathing apparatus.

The SDF on Dec. 8 dispatched a group of nurses to Asahikawa in Hokkaido, which is also fighting an uphill battle against a surge in COVID-19 cases.

The Defense Ministry warned that its own resources are now stretched as its nurses were helping to care for 47 COVID-19 patients at five SDF hospitals across the nation as of Dec. 9.

“The SDF hospitals are bearing a heavier burden than in normal times,” said a senior ministry official.

The SDF has about 1,000 medical officers and 1,000 nurses on its roster. They are also busy providing medical services for outpatients. The SDF also needs to keep a reserve contingent on hand to respond to other emergencies, such as a natural disaster.

Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi revealed at a Dec. 8 news conference that he told Yoshimura by phone, “The SDF does not have extra personnel, so we might not be able to provide all you want.”

(This article was written by Yoshitaka Ito and Daizo Teramoto.)