Photo/Illutration Public health officials in Tokyo’s Minato Ward make calls to COVID-19 patients at home in August 2021. (Yosuke Fukudome)

At least 202 people died of COVID-19 at their homes during the “fifth wave” of infections in August and September last year, the health ministry said, and a number of the deaths were preventable.

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare had instructed prefectures to collect fifth-wave infection data from municipalities in December last year. The ministry announced the results at a Jan. 13 meeting of its experts’ panel on the COVID-19 pandemic.

A total of 132 people, or 65 percent of the 202, died when recovering from COVID-19 at their homes, while COVID-19 was confirmed in 70 people, or 35 percent, after their deaths at home.

Over half the 202 people, or 55 percent, were in their 50s or younger.

Three percent were in their 20s, 8 percent in their 30s, 16 percent in their 40s, 28 percent in their 50s, 18 percent in their 60s, and 27 percent in their 70s or older.

Sixty-nine percent, or 139 people, were male.

Around 66 percent of the 202 people had not received a single COVID-19 vaccine dose, while 9 percent had been jabbed once, and 6 percent were fully vaccinated with two doses.

The vaccine histories were unknown for 19 percent of the 202.

The ministry also collected data on COVID-19 symptoms shown by the 202 people immediately before their deaths.

Thirty-seven percent of them had mild symptoms or were asymptomatic, while 3 percent were showing moderate symptoms, in which they suffered from low oxygen saturation levels in their blood due to pneumonia.

Two percent of them were in serious condition, requiring ventilators or treatment in intensive care units.

For 58 percent of them, the symptoms just before their deaths were not known.

According to the data collected, public health offices and others could not conduct proper health observations of some of these people before they died. Public health offices at that time were under such enormous pressure from the wave of infections that health checks of at-home COVID-19 patients were often delayed.

In one case, a COVID-19 patient at home did not answer a call from a public health official for a health observation. The patient was found dead when the official went to the person’s home.

In another case, the public health office faced delays in locating a COVID-19 patient because that person was not at his or her home address.

And in another case, a hospital failed to inform a public health office that a patient had tested positive for COVID-19, so no health observations were conducted on that individual.

One patient was deemed not in need of hospitalization because of a lack of data on his or her oxygen saturation levels. That information was missing because the individual couldn’t use the pulse oximeter provided by local authorities at home.

Another patient went into cardiac arrest during the several hours it took to find a hospital with an available bed.

In other cases, the patients’ own decisions may have contributed to their deaths.

For example, one patient chose to recover at home, even though a public health office told the person to be hospitalized or to recuperate at a designated accommodation facility.

Another patient did not contact a public health office after a DIY antigen test returned a positive result.

The total number of deaths due to COVID-19 reported from Aug. 1 to Sep. 30 was almost 2,500.

The Delta variant of COVID-19, which spread in the fifth wave, was more likely to cause pneumonia even among younger people.

According to the Tokyo metropolitan government, 85 percent of the capital’s residents in their 70s or older were fully vaccinated by the end of August last year, meaning many older residents were protected by the vaccine’s ability to prevent infections or serious symptoms.

A smaller portion of younger residents in Tokyo were fully vaccinated by the end of August, including only around 40 percent of those in their 50s, according to the metropolitan government.