Japan has carried out a threat to publicly shame people not complying with coronavirus border control measures, releasing the names of three people who broke quarantine rules after returning from overseas, amid a surge in case numbers.
The health ministry said late on Monday the three Japanese nationals named had clearly acted to avoid contact with authorities after recently returning from abroad.
The announcement, the first of its kind, sparked a flurry of speculation among Twitter users about the details of those identified, such as their jobs and locations.
Japan is asking all travellers from overseas, including its own citizens, to self-quarantine for two weeks, during which they are asked to use a location-tracking smartphone app and report on their health condition.
The move came as as worries grow about a strained medical system. The country has shifted its policy to hospitalise only Covid-19 patients who are seriously ill and those at risk of becoming so while others isolate at home, officials said.
Japan has seen a sharp increase in coronavirus cases, and is recording more than 10,000 daily new infections nationwide. Tokyo, where the Olympics are being hosted, had a record high of 4,058 on Saturday.
“There are those being rejected repeatedly for admission,” he said in an interview. “In the midst of excitement over the Olympics, the situation for medical personnel is very severe.”
Chief cabinet secretary Katsunobu Kato told reporters fewer elderly people, most of whom are already vaccinated, are getting infected.
“On the other hand, infections of younger people are increasing and people in their 40s and 50s with severe symptoms are rising,” he said. “With people also being admitted to hospital with heat stroke, some people are not able to immediately get admitted and are recovering at home.”
Prime minister Yoshihide Suga, who announced the change on Monday, said the government would ensure people isolating at home can be hospitalised if necessary. Previous policy had focused on hospitalising a broader category of patients.
Some worry the shift could lead to more deaths, however. “They call it in-home treatment but it’s actually in-home abandonment,” opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan leader Yukio Edano was quoted as saying by NHK public television.
Japan on Monday expanded its state of emergency to include three prefectures near Tokyo and the western prefecture of Osaka. An existing emergency in Tokyo – its fourth since the pandemic began – and Okinawa is now set to last through August 31st.
The country has avoided a devastating outbreak of the virus, with about 932,000 total cases and just more than 15,000 deaths as of Sunday.
But it is now struggling to contain the highly transmissible Delta variant as the public grows weary of mostly voluntary limits on their activities and the vaccination rollout lags.
Just under 30 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated, including three-quarters of those 65 and over.
Nearly 70 per cent of hospital beds for seriously ill Covid-19 patients were filled as of Sunday, Tokyo data showed.
Showa University Hospital’s Sagara said there was a difference between theoretically available beds and beds that could accept patients immediately.
“I think the latter is close to zero,” he said, adding that if infections keep rising, hospitals will have to limit surgery and other non-Covid-19 treatments.
“We must avoid a situation in which the Olympics was held but the medical system collapsed,” he said. “At present, infections are spreading quite a lot and if they spike further, [the Olympics] will be considered a failure.”
According to health ministry guidelines, seriously-ill patients are defined as those admitted to intensive care units or needing artificial respirators.
The Tokyo Shimbun newspaper said 12,000 patients were isolating at home, a 12-fold increase in the past month.
Suga and Olympics organisers say there is no link between the summer Games and the sharp increase in cases.
Medical experts, however, have said holding the Olympics sent a confusing message about the need to stay home, contributing to the rise.
Unlike the voluntary restrictions and low vaccination rates elsewhere in Japan, more than 80 per cent of the people in the Olympic village in Tokyo for athletes and coaches are vaccinated, testing is compulsory and movement is curtailed.
Organisers on Tuesday announced 18 new Games-related Covid-19 cases, bringing the total since July 1st to 294. – Reuters