Photo/Illutration Nurses train at a hospital designated for seriously ill COVID-19 patients in Osaka’s Sumiyoshi Ward in December 2020. (Pool)

Contingency plans for an anticipated sixth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic as early as this winter call for more than 6,000 doctors and nurses to be on hand for dispatch to medical institutions struggling to treat patients.

The strategy, which is supported by just over 2,000 medical institutions nationwide, was outlined by the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Labor on Dec. 7.

The report marked the first time for prefectures to draw up plans for dispatching medical professionals for a COVID-19 emergency. The plans assume that the personnel will, in principle, be dispatched within their own prefectures.

It will be up to each prefecture to set up a system that will work in their jurisdictions. However, more than 10 prefectures said they were still “coordinating things” and had no firm plans in place yet.

As of now, the ministry said 2,258 medical institutions had declared support for the initiative and that 3,216 doctors and 3,073 nurses will be available.

The bulk of the medical staff, 1,646 doctors and 623 nurses from 791 medical institutions, will be ready to be dispatched in Tokyo.

“The plans reflect our sincere efforts on how best to deal with (the pandemic), after facing the hard reality of this summer,” health minister Shigeyuki Goto told a news conference after a Cabinet meeting that day.

Their plans were cobbled together as concern continues to grow over the possible spread of the Omicron variant.

“We have done our work by taking into consideration the possibility of yet another new variant emerging, too,” said a ministry official.

The fifth wave of the novel coronavirus this summer was marked by a shortage of medical staff to treat COVID-19 patients.

The ministry asked prefectures in October to draw up contingency plans to avoid a repeat of the many COVID-19 deaths that occurred during the fifth wave because patients had no access to strained medical services and died at home.

It called on prefectures to prepare for a situation where 20 percent more COVID-19 patients than there were this summer need to be hospitalized despite an increase in the vaccine rollout program.

In November, the ministry also published target numbers of hospital beds for COVID-19 patients that each prefecture should strive to achieve.

The total goal was 37,000 beds, or 30 percent more than the number set aside for COVID-19 patients this summer when cases of those receiving hospital treatment peaked.

Prefectures met the 37,000 target via written pledges provided by all the medical institutions.