COVID-19 4th Wave hits Hiroshima. New restrictions announced.

New restrictions have been announced in response to rising COVID-19 infections in Hiroshima which are putting pressure on local medical facilities.

116 new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Hiroshima Prefecture yesterday, May 6. This is the first time the number of new daily cases has exceeded 100 since January 8, 2021 and puts the prefecture into “Stage 3” (rapid spread of the virus) with 18.82 new weekly new cases per 100,000 people. 70 of yesterday’s new cases were in Hiroshima City. The city is now in “Stage 4” (explosive spread of the virus) with a rate of 27.9 new weekly cases per 100,000 people. (Weekly infection rate figures as of May 5, 2021).


Increased PCR testing. Restrictions return

At a press conference yesterday Hiroshima governor Yuzaki Hidehiko said that is clear from the increase in number of cases and outbreak of clusters that the spread of the virus is by no means under control.

He pointed to the high percentage of workplace infections and restated the prefecture’s strategy of making PCR test kits available without charge to all workplaces with 10 or more employees. 400,000 test kits will be available in Hiroshima City and 160,000 in Fukuyama City (which account for 80% of the prefectures recent infections) to workplaces. The will be mailed out on request and prefectural employees will collect them for analysis. The prefecture expects a 50% take-up rate.

The governor also said further measures such as requesting reduction of outings and a shift back to working remote work are also being considered, which are expected to be announced today (See below). Yuzaki conjectured that such measures would need to be in place for approximately three weeks.


COVID-19 prevention measures announced

Governor Yuzaki has just announced the latest set of measures to try to bring down the number of COVID-19 infections.

In addition to increased PCR testing, Yuzaki has called for and stressed the importance of a drastic reduction of person to person contact in quickly bringing down the number of infections starting in some cases from tomorrow, May 8.

The measures include:

– Reduce person-to-person contact by 80%.
– Cut non-essential outings by half.
– Raise remote working hours to 70% of total.
– Businesses that serve alcohol in the Nagarekawa/Yagenbori nightlife district of Hiroshima City are to close at 8pm (alcohol sales to stop at 7pm) from May 12 to June 1.
– Public facilities, theaters, cinemas and other places where people gather in Hiroshima and Fukuyama cities are requested to close at 8pm.

When asked why it was only restaurants and bars in the nightlife district that had been singled out for limited hours, Yuzaki said that, while this area did not account for all cases associated with nightlife, a large proportion of recent cases have been traced to this area. He went on to emphasize, however, that this alone will not bring the spread of the virus under control, again stressing that the key to a short, sharp correction is the reduction of person-to-person contact in all walks of life.


Hiroshima medical services under pressure

Last night, RCC News show Imashiri reported that, as of 5pm on May 6, 52.9% of the prefecture’s hospital beds designated for care of COVID-19 patients were in use, another condition which triggers Stage 4 designation.

The show’s report on the situation at Hiroshima University Hospital, the designated medical facility for the most serious cases of COVID-19, illustrated the challenges being faced by local health care professionals. With six Ekumo machines, Hiroshima University Hospital is equipped with the more ventilators than any other facility in the prefecture.

Associate Professor Ohshima Shinichiro commented that the number of critical cases (those requiring a ventilator or a COVID-19 intensive care unit) has been increasing since mid-April of this year and is currently increasing at a rate of one patient a day. All four of the hospital’s COVID-19 intensive care units are currently in constant use.

The challenge of new variants

Ohshita noted three 4th Wave tends
1. The majority of critical cases is shifting from the 50-69 age group to the 30-59 age group.
2. More patients without underlying conditions are becoming critically ill.
3. Critically ill patients are taking longer to recover, putting further pressure on facilities.

He added that it is not as simple as increasing the number of ventilators and intensive care units as the medical staff required to operate them are not necessarily available (the report mentions that 7 or 8 medical staff are required to oversee one patient on a ventilator in any 24 hour period).

Ohshita advises that, as more virulent new variants become dominant, the wearing of non-woven disposable medical masks and taking care while removing them for eating etc when in the company of others. Free PCR tests are available to members of the public at Hiroshima Station and Hiroshima Prefectural Hall (Hiroshima Kencho) until May 16.


Olympic torch relay now in doubt

It is likely that the Olympic torch relay, scheduled to pass through Hiroshima Prefecture on May 17 and 18, will not take place on public roads, governor Yuzaki said May 6. Now that people have been asked to avoid person-to-person contact as much as possible, the prefecture will start discussions about alternative ways to hold the event which was planned to pass through 12 towns and cities. It is reported that IOC Chairman Thomas Bach has expressed a desire to attend the ceremony planned at Peace Memorial Park at the end of the first day. [Chugoku Shinbun]


Current COVID-19 situation in Hiroshima Prefecture

As of May 5, 2021
– 605 active cases
– 11 critical cases
– 195 in hospital
– 299 isolating in hotels
– 111 isolating at home

Number of hospital beds 386
– Occupied 50.5
– Available 191 beds

Number of hotel rooms
– Total 547
– Occupied 54.7
– Available 248 rooms

Vaccinations in Hiroshima Prefecture

Health professionals (as of April 30, 2021)
1st shot 69,739
2nd shot 25,089

Elderly members of the public (as of May 5, 2021)
1st shot 7786
2nd shot 0

RCC News
RCC Imashiri
Chugoku Shimbun