July 6, 2022

Bento boxes and boredom: Japan hotel visit for people with mild symptoms of COVID-19

UTSUNOMIYA – In May 2020, the Maruji Hotel in the center of this eastern Japanese city became the first hotel in Tochigi Prefecture to transform into a facility for people recovering from mild and asymptomatic cases of infection. coronavirus.

How do people recovering in places like this spend their time? How do the staff help them? The Mainichi Shimbun went to the hotel to find out firsthand.

The Maruji Hotel, run by Haruo Fukuda, has 123 rooms. Of these, 111 are reserved for people recovering from COVID-19 to stay, and general customers are not accepted.

Until November 2020, they had only received nine people, but a wave of infections in December brought the total to 120. As of this month, a total of around 260 people had stayed at the hotel due coronavirus infection on January 27 and when the Mainichi Shimbun visited, 50 people occupied the rooms. Initially, the hotel mainly focused on welcoming asymptomatic people, but now people with minor symptoms are the main customers.

The decision to allow a person to stay in a hotel should be made by a public health center and a doctor. Typically, guests should spend 10 days at the facility and should stay there until they are negative.

There have been cases of departures after one night, and others that remained on the scene for about two weeks. It was reported that there were also guests taken to hospital after their health deteriorated.

When there were few people admitted, the hotel would wait two weeks after guests left before performing full disinfection work on all floors of the building, followed by room cleaning by staff. But the hotel is now forced to take its previous totals several times, so disinfection and cleaning work takes place one day after the person leaves.

Haruhisa Fukuda, General Manager of the Maruji Hotel, talks about the conditions faced by people recovering from coronavirus infection on January 27, 2021 in Utsunomiya. (Mainichi / Kanako Watanabe)

The Maruji Hotel reached its maximum capacity in mid-January. A sense of pressure emerged when they reached the point of having around 80 full rooms. They also received complaints such as “If you have empty rooms, leave more!” Haruhisa Fukuda, general manager of the hotel, 47, said: “This is different from our usual business, offering accommodation to recuperate is a special case.”

The hotel’s third-floor banquet hall has been converted into storage space, and the rooms are also occupied by nurses, government workers, and others. Rooms on the fourth to sixth floors are reserved for people with coronavirus.

Guests clean their own rooms and make their own beds. During the day until 8 p.m., customers are allowed to leave their room and move to the floor where they are. Burnable plastic trash cans have been placed. To evacuate the waste, agents of the prefectural administration in protective clothing wrap all the bins in plastic bags. Those who tried to leave the hotel were also arrested by security personnel.

People recovering from hotels cannot leave, and many spend the time watching TV, using the Internet, or reading books. The only thing they should expect is the meals.

On the day of the Mainichi Shimbun’s visit, the breakfast bento boxes contained miso grilled horse mackerel, tamagoyaki folded eggs, sausage, stews, and fruit. The lunch bento consisted of pork steak, marinated burdock root kinpira with salted rice malt, rice and pickled food. For dinner, guests were treated to an assortment of fried foods, from burdock root to pickled plums, soup, rice and opera cake.

Meals are delivered at 7 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. respectively, and the staff distribute the bento boxes by placing them individually on chairs set up outside the rooms. Some of the guests have allergies and of the 50 meal allowances for Jan. 27, six have been changed to meet allergen needs.

Haruhisa Fukuda said, “We want to keep thinking about how we can make the time recovering people spend here at least a little quieter; it is a tough and difficult situation for them both mentally and physically.

(Japanese original from Kanako Watanabe, Utsunomiya Bureau)