Number of at-home COVID-19 patients in Japan up 14-fold in two weeks

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The number of COVID-19 patients recovering at home is surging in Japan alongside an unprecedented spike in cases fueled by the omicron variant, which is highly infectious but less likely to cause severe symptoms.

The number of patients recovering at home hit a record of around 264,000 as of Tuesday, up about fourteenfold from two weeks earlier.

The data highlights growing concerns over the spread of the coronavirus among households. According to government data, nearly 40% of people who tested positive for the coronavirus earlier this month contracted the virus at home.

Hiroo Hanabusa, head of Shinjuku Hiro Clinic in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward, which deals with around five to six patients a day through home visits and online check-ups, said that many of the clinic’s COVID-19 patients had been in their 20s to 40s earlier in the pandemic, but the clinic now takes care of a wide range of patients, from children to the elderly.

“In line with an increase in infected people, the number of severely ill patients could grow,” Hanabusa said.

Hinata Homecare Clinic in the capital’s Shinagawa Ward had about 700 COVID-19 patients use its home care service over the course of a month during the fifth wave of infections last summer, when the delta variant was dominant. However, according to its director, Kazuma Tashiro, the clinic doesn’t have any home-care patients and instead is seeing an increasing number of phone calls from patients, mostly with mild symptoms.

Tashiro voiced his support for the government’s policy that allows young people with no underlying conditions to recover without being hospitalized, provided they have only mild COVID-19 symptoms. “We should adopt a fighting style that fits the omicron variant, of which carriers are less likely to develop severe symptoms,” he said.

Some local governments are moving to change their existing measures to support at-home COVID-19 patients.

On Friday, Kanagawa Prefecture introduced a measure that will see some patients recover at home with no support from medical institutions. In order to preserve resources within its medical system, the prefecture stopped distributing pulse oximeters, which estimate blood oxygen levels, and food.

Shizuoka Prefecture’s pandemic response leaders are dealing with a spate of reports from local public health centers that they are running short of pulse oximeters.

Following the delta wave, the Shizuoka government secured about 12,000 of the devices. However, the prefecture has “additionally ordered thousands as infections are continuing to increase,” a prefectural official said, adding that some people have not returned the devices after use.

The Shizuoka government is continuing to provide one week’s worth of food and other supplies to patients who cannot receive support from relatives or friends.

An official of a food wholesaler that packages the supplies for shipments said that 10 workers are responsible for the work.

“If infections increase further, we may have to review our personnel distribution,” the official said.

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