Japan's Osaka buckles under COVID surge

Doctors in Japan's second largest city Osaka say they're struggling to cope with a spike in COVID-19 patients.

Hospitals there are running out of beds and ventilators as exhausted medical teams warn of a "system collapse."

The city is bearing the brunt of Japan's fourth wave, accounting for a third of the nation's death toll in May.

Just 14% of the prefecture's COVID-19 patients have been hospitalized, leaving the majority to fend for themselves.

Doctors are now warning of an impending disaster if the Olympic Games go ahead in July.

Yuji Tohda is a Director at Kindai University Hospital:

"Simply put, this is the collapse of the medical system. We cannot take in (patients)..."

"They say the Olympics will be the symbol of overcoming the coronavirus, but we haven't overcome the virus yet. From a medical point-of-view, the most important thing is to have the number of infected people under control. Everyone wants people to avoid gatherings."

Japan has one of the lowest vaccination rates of any major developed nation.

Only about half of Japan's medical staff have completed inoculations.

Caring for critically ill patients in the face of infection risk has taken a serious toll on staff.

Some have been doing hundreds of hours of overtime for a year.

Satsuki Nakayama is director of the nursing department at Osaka Medical and Pharmaceutical University Hospital.

"Some ICU staff say they've reached a breaking point. So I have to think of personnel changes to bring in people from other hospital wings to support the ICU staff."

Japan's surge in COVID cases is being driven in part by the UK variant of the virus which is considerably more infectious.

In the week leading up to Thursday, there were some 3,900 reported new infections.

That represents a more than five-fold jump over the corresponding period three months ago.

Much of Japan, including Tokyo, is under a state of emergency which is expected to be extended to June.

On Monday, Japan opened its first mass inoculation centres in Tokyo and Osaka, as it races to vaccinate most of its elderly population before the start of the Olympics.

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