By Elaine Lies
TOKYO (Reuters) – The Japanese city of Osaka has issued an urgent plea for citizens to donate plastic raincoats to hospitals running short of protective gear for staff treating coronavirus patients, with some doctors resorting to wearing garbage bags.
Japan last week imposed a state of emergency in Tokyo and six other areas, including Osaka, but the number of cases has continued rising to total around 8,200, with 166 deaths.
By Wednesday afternoon there were nearly 900 cases in Osaka city and the prefecture that surrounds it, making it the second hardest-hit after Tokyo, media said.
Desperately trying to bridge the gap in supplies of protective gowns for its hospitals, a notice on the Osaka city web site said any color and style of raincoat was acceptable, including ponchos, as long as they were meant for adults.
Ichiro Matsui, Osaka’s mayor, told a gathering in the city on Tuesday that medical facilities were running dangerously short of all sorts of protective gear.
“Some people are even wearing garbage bags,” he said.
“We ask anybody who has unused plastic raincoats in their house, or who might have a stockpile of them, to please get in touch.”
Japanese medical workers have been warning for weeks that the medical system could soon be pushed to the brink, with nurses telling Reuters they were unsure whether their hospitals had enough advanced personal protective equipment such as N95 masks and plastic gowns. Some in Tokyo said they had been told to reuse masks. Health Minister Katsunobu Kato met with industry leaders last week, pressing them to ramp up production of masks and other key medical supplies.
Amid the shortage, social media users said they were starting to receive the reusable cloth face masks that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged to send two weeks ago to every household in Japan, a plan widely ridiculed on social media.
Under the hashtag “Two Masks” – a reference to the number of masks being distributed to each household regardless of the number of residents – many Twitter users said they appeared too small for adults to use and were a waste of tax money when other things, such as subsidies, were needed.
Abe is under growing pressure to do more, including issuing a blanket payout to all citizens, as some other countries have done.
“Can you pay your rent with these? Or your water bill, or your electric bill?” wrote a Twitter user with the handle “Kayase.”
“Anybody pleased to be getting these masks must not have any other problems.”
(Reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)