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Ambulances in Japan struggle to find hospitals for serious patients as omicron spreads

The number of cases in which ambulance crews struggled to find somewhere to take emergency patients in Japan hit a record high in the week through Sunday, the Fire and Disaster Management Agency said Tuesday.

The weekly figure jumped to 4,151 from the preceding week’s 2,883, up for the fifth consecutive week and surpassing the previous record of 3,361 cases set in the second week of August last year, when the country was hit by the fifth wave of COVID-19 infections.

Of the weekly total, suspected COVID-19 patients accounted for 1,031, up from the previous week’s 541 and topping 1,000 for the first time since the fifth week of August.

The surge in such hospital transportation issues apparently reflected the rapid spread of the omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Another possible reason for the growth is increases in the numbers of accidents during snow removal work and cases in which elderly people choked on mochi rice cakes.

“We’re in a tough situation anyway and will continue to pay close attention to the situation,” an official of the agency said.

The agency defines transportation difficulty cases as those in which an ambulance crew took over 30 minutes to start transporting patients after arriving at their locations and making inquiries with at least four hospitals.

The survey covered 52 fire departments in major cities across Japan.

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