Japan faces ICU bed shortage amid coronavirus spread

TOKYO — Japan may face a shortage of intensive care unit beds as the number of coronavirus infections grows rapidly in the country.

A government estimate of the number of potentially severely ill patients shows that in 43 of Japan’s 47 prefectures, the number of patients at the peak could exceed the number of ICU beds, a Nikkei analysis of the government data finds.

Japan has fewer ICUs per capita than other developed countries, and staff shortages are also a problem. There is an urgent need to consolidate hospitals and to take other steps to address these issues.

ICUs typically are staffed with doctors and nurses 24 hours a day to provide urgent care to patients in grave condition.

The number of seriously ill coronavirus patients may exceed the number of ICU beds, the survey found, by comparing the peak number of potentially seriously ill patients in the government data with the number of ICU beds by prefecture as compiled by Nihon Ultmarc, a medical information company.

Only four prefectures, Tokyo, Okayama, Fukuoka and Okinawa, have more ICU beds than patients at the peak estimate, but the number of available beds for coronavirus patients will shrink if they are being used to treat people with other conditions. The actual peak demand may also exceed the estimate, posing a further problem.

Japan has just five ICU beds per 100,000 people. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information and other sources, the U.S. has about 35 beds per 100,000. Germany has roughly 30 beds, France and Italy around 12, and Spain about 10.

ICU treatment is hard on patients, physically, and elderly people often cannot undergo such procedures. This led hospitals to cut ICUs, as they expected demand to fall as Japan’s population ages.


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