Photo/Illutration This Saitama Prefecture hospital set up a temporary section to look after outpatients with fevers and to conduct polymerase chain reaction tests while the COVID-19 pandemic was at its height. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

A government move to impose penalties on designated hospitals that dont accept patients suffering from a new form of infectious disease could backfire, health experts warn.

The government plans to submit legislation to the extraordinary Diet session expected this fall to revise the Infectious Diseases Law so local authorities and medical institutions can reach agreements on securing hospital beds, setting up departments to care for outpatients with fevers and planning for house calls to check on patients recuperating at home.

The measure is being sought because of issues that emerged in summer 2021 during the fifth wave of COVID-19 cases. At that time, the government only sought the cooperation of medical institutions to secure hospital beds for patients.

But the lack of any legally binding obligation led to only a small number of hospital beds being set aside for COVID-19 patients. This resulted in about 65 percent of such beds in Tokyo being taken by patients at the most critical time of the emergency. In addition, scores of patients died while recuperating at home.

The inability to get more hospitals to set up departments to look after outpatients with fevers led to an influx of sick individuals at the few institutions that did cooperate with the government request.

Government officials argue that penalties are needed to ensure hospitals live up to agreements made with local authorities to make the measure more effective.

But doctors are already raising opposition to any legal revisions that would force hospitals to implement certain measures.

Yoshihito Niki, a visiting professor of internal medicine at Showa University in Tokyo who specializes in infectious diseases, said simply ordering hospitals to accept patients is not the solution.

He suggested that the government provide additional financial incentives to encourage more medical institutions to go along with the plan.

(This article was written by Yuki Edamatsu and Yoshinori Hayashi.)