Editorial: Self-defense forces medical units to battle pandemic’s 2nd wave

June 8 , 2020

To prepare for the projected 2nd wave of the pandemic, Japan’s Self-Defense Force will be procuring two additional mobile CT (computed tomography) imaging units under the second fiscal 2020 supplementary budget that was recently passed. These units can be rapidly deployed to such possible cluster sites as a cruise ship or retirement home in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak and have those diagnosed with mild symptoms transported to hospitals for treatment.

While such units will also prove invaluable during times of natural disasters, the government needs to examine ways in which SDF medical teams can best be utilized.

The mobile CT has already proven its worth: When a cruise ship docked for repairs at Nagasaki port in April, the authorities found that 148 of the 622 people on board had been infected. Up to eight individuals were expected to succumb, but not a single person actually died. The reason: CT images taken onsite revealed even minor viral aberrations in the lungs of asymptomatic patients, leading to their early hospitalization, treatment and recovery.

The health of mildly-suffering individuals infected by the virus can deteriorate quickly, resulting in death. When the cruise ship docked, Nagasaki University was tasked to direct medical services. Its doctors quickly decided to forgo standard x-ray exams and rely on CT imaging instead. In response, Komeito House of Councilors member Koji Akino, who took part in the Nagasaki prefectural COVID-19 response team, asked the SDF to dispatch its sole mobile CT unit to the scene, which the SDF did. The unit has since then been deployed to airports and hotels accommodating the infected to much success; the SDF team manning the unit has also carried out programs to educate and train local government officials on ways to limit the contagion. Equally important, not a single SDF team member has been infected in that time.