'Like hell:' As Olympics loom, Japan health care in turmoil

'Like hell:' As Olympics loom, Japan health care in turmoil



TOKYO (AP) — As she struggled to breathe, Shizue Akita had to wait more than six hours while paramedics searched for a hospital in Osaka that would treat her worsening COVID-19.

When she finally got to one that wasn’t overwhelmed with other patients, doctors diagnosed severe pneumonia and organ failure and sedated her. Akita, 87, was dead two weeks later.

“Osaka’s medical systems have collapsed,” said her son, Kazuyuki Akita. He has watched from his home north of Tokyo as three other family members in Osaka have dealt with the virus, and with inadequate health care. “It’s like hell.”

Hospitals in Osaka, Japan’s third-biggest city and only 2 1/2 hours by bullet train from Summer Olympics host Tokyo, are overflowing with coronavirus patients. About 35,000 people nationwide — twice the number of those in hospitals — must stay at home with the disease, often becoming seriously ill and sometimes dying before they can get medical care.

As cases surge in Osaka, medical workers say that every corner of the system has been slowed, stretched and burdened. And it’s happening in other parts of the country, too.

The frustration and fear are clear in interviews by The Associated Press with besieged medical workers and the families of patients in Osaka. It's in striking contrast with the tone in the capital Tokyo, where Olympic organizers and government officials insist the July Games will be safe and orderly even as a state of emergency spreads to more parts of the country and a growing number of citizens call for a cancellation.

Some see Osaka as a warning for what could happen to the rest of Japan if the crisis worsens at a time when officials — and the world — are focused on the Olympics.

Osaka's struggles are a “man-made disaster,” Akita told AP in a written message, caused in...

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