Photo/Illutration Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is briefed on how an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation device works during a visit to a Tokyo hospital. (Pool)

New Prime Minister Fumio Kishida put his stamp on dealing with the novel coronavirus crisis Oct. 15 by announcing that prefectural governments will be asked to set aside more hospital beds for COVID-19 patients to ensure appropriate medical care can be provided even if a variant strain emerges that is doubly infectious.

Kishida presented his broad outline for dealing with the pandemic at a meeting of the government task force handling the health scare.

To ensure the medical care setup will not be overwhelmed if a more contagious strain emerges, the government will push for a 20-percent increase in hospital beds at the prefectural level nationwide. Prefectural authorities will also be asked to compile their own plans for securing the necessary public health and medical care facilities to handle another surge in the health crisis.

Government officials said a 20-percent increase in hospital bed capacity should be sufficient to deal with a doubly infectious strain now that the vaccination rollout is in full swing, coupled with the start of other treatments, such as the use of antibody cocktails.

The government anticipates that prefectural governments will have compiled their plans by the end of November.

Kishida instructed his ministers handling the health crisis to draw up specifics of the broad outline he proposed. He stressed that greater cooperation between the central and prefectural governments was vital in addressing the pandemic.

The government is also weighing steps it could take if a variant strain emerges that is three times as infectious as the Delta strain, the main culprit of the fifth and worst wave of infections this summer.

In such an event, the central government would play a leading role in securing the necessary hospital beds by, for example, limiting the provision of medical care for illnesses other that COVID-19. The government would also sharply curtail outdoor activities on the part of the general public, sources said.

The government is still hopeful that its program to provide the recommended two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine for all those who want it will be completed by the end of November. It plans to start offering booster shots before the year-end.

Plans are also in the pipeline to approve use of oral antiviral drugs before the end of the year for COVID-19 patients recuperating at home. Domestic production would cover the volume of medicine required, officials said.