Photo/Illutration A hospital room available for COVID-19 patients in Fuchu, western Tokyo (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

The health ministry requested on Aug. 23 that all health care institutions in Tokyo step up their efforts to contain the novel coronavirus by securing more beds and dispatching more staff to treat patients.

Health Minister Norihisa Tamura and Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike agreed on issuing the request based on the revised Infectious Disease Law during a meeting held the same day.

Several prefectures, including Osaka, Nara, Shizuoka and Ibaraki, had made similar requests under the law, which was revised in February, but this marks the first time the ministry has targeted a capital.

Koike said the central and metropolitan governments jointly issued the plea because there are many national health care institutions and university hospitals in Tokyo.

“We need to wage all-out war against the raging Delta variant,” Koike said.

Hospitals and clinics that fail to comply with the request without giving proper justification will be urged by the ministry to fall in line. If they further ignore the central government’s recommendations, the ministry will name and shame them.

As of Aug. 23, about 6,000 beds were immediately available for COVID-19 patients in Tokyo.

But the number of people admitted to hospitals then was 4,034, supposedly leaving 32 percent of the beds still available.

Moreover, the hospital admittance rate for COVID-19 patients was a staggering low 9.5 percent as of Aug. 18.

"Some health care facilities tell the metropolitan government that they secure beds but do not admit a patient," said a person who is in charge of the capital's health care policies. "In reality, we have little room to take in any more patients." 

The latest request covers about 650 hospitals and 13,500 clinics and training institutes for doctors and nurses.

Health care organizations that have already treated COVID-19 patients are being asked to secure more beds, while facilities that take in recovering patients are being urged to treat more patients.

Facilities that have not admitted a COVID-19 patient are being asked to send doctors and nurses to assist other facilities. One such place where reinforcements are needed is an “oxygen station” that the metropolitan government has set up to treat those with mild symptoms.

The governor also suggested that, if needed, officials could ask medical facilities to postpone nonurgent hospitalizations and operations, and limit the capacity of regular health care services.

The metropolitan government, which has long urged hospitals to secure more beds for COVID-19 patients, is now asking each facility to report the number of available beds by the end of August to increase the effectiveness of the request.