Japan PM’s plan to have mild virus cases stay home sparks anger

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. © David Mareuil/Pool Photo via AP. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

TOKYO, Aug 4, 2021, Bloomberg. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s plan to relieve strain on hospitals amid record Covid-19 infections by having people with mild symptoms recover at home has sparked a backlash months ahead of an election, Bloomberg reported.

Suga is pushing the idea as the number of people hospitalized with the virus hit a new peak of about 80,000 on Monday. But the policy unveiled this week has faced criticism among political partners and on social media for what many see as not providing proper care for those infected.

The fresh controversy over Suga’s handling of the pandemic comes as he faces a ruling party leadership vote next month and a general election by the end of November. While the opposition doesn’t have the support to oust Suga’s long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party, a loss of parliamentary seats could weaken his control over the party.

“Even now, people are having trouble getting admitted to hospital when they should be,” Akira Nagatsuma, a lawmaker with the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party, said in parliament Wednesday, urging Health Minister Norihisa Tamura to apologize for what he called a “man-made disaster.”

Suga is facing one of the most difficult periods of his premiership that started in September 2020. The prime minister is trying to speed up a vaccine rollout that has been the slowest among Group of Seven countries and keep infections from exploding as Tokyo hosts the Olympics.

To avoid overloading the health-care system now, Suga’s plan sets out to reserve hospital beds for those in serious condition, or considered at risk of suffering serious symptoms. Similar plans have been used in other places facing capacity strains at hospitals.

Under his plan, doctors would monitor the condition of those infected with Covid recovering at home, and in cases where there is concern about transmission within the household, people may be transferred to hotels. Outpatients over 50, or who have preexisting conditions would be made eligible for treatment with a drug cocktail, Suga said Monday.

Earlier in the pandemic, Japan’s splintered health-care system had difficulty coping even with a relatively small number of Covid-19 cases, partly due to a lack of coordination and flexibility.

Virus cases are reaching new peaks in Japan, with the seven-day average of infections nationwide hitting a record of about 10,000 this week. But at the same time, the number of people defined as being in serious condition is half an earlier peak, and daily deaths from the disease are often in single figures.

The idea — coming as national public broadcaster NHK reported 84 people had died from Covid in their homes in the first half of the year — has sparked concern from Suga’s coalition partner. Natsuo Yamaguchi, the leader of the Komeito party, told Suga Tuesday that those with intermediate symptoms must also receive proper medical care, and urged him to consider expanding the number of hospital beds, the Mainichi newspaper said.

While Japan has suffered far fewer virus cases and deaths than other G-7 advanced nations, the public hasn’t credited Suga. Support for his cabinet has fallen to record lows in some prominent national polls in recent weeks, which have also shown a majority of respondents don’t approve of his handling of the coronavirus.

Approximately 30% of Japan’s population is fully vaccinated, including more than three quarters of those 65 or older. In the U.S., Germany, and Britain, more than half the population is fully vaccinated.

With assistance by Emi Nobuhiro, and Takashi Hirokawa

Share it

Exclusive: Beyond the Covid-19 world's coverage