TOKYO – For months, Japan has confused the world by reporting a relatively low rate of coronavirus infections without imposing other nations’ stringent measures.
With the country declaring a state of emergency in the face of a worrying increase in cases, medical experts are wondering if Tuesday’s move came just in time to avoid an accident or if it is too late.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe painted an optimistic picture when he announced that the declaration would apply to Japan’s largest population centers for the next month. By asking citizens to do so Reduce person-to-person contact, he said, “The spread of infections can decrease in two weeks.”
However, some experts said the state of emergency was a tacit admission that the approach the country had been ready for months no longer worked as Japan reached 3,906 confirmed cases on Tuesday, exactly twice as many as a week earlier.
“Japan screwed it up,” said Kenji Shibuya, director of the Population Health Institute at King’s College London. The confirmed cases were “just the tip of the iceberg” and an increase in patients could lead to the collapse of the Tokyo health system.
Although Japan is now taking its virus fight a step further, the emergency train has its own limits. The declaration will largely depend on voluntary compliance, and Mr Abe stressed that it was not a block and that public transport would continue. Prefectural governors can only demand that people work from home and not go out.
A day earlier, Mr. Abe announced that the country would increase its test capacity for the virus to 20,000 a day. So far, Japan has rarely performed half of the 7,500 tests that it can now perform daily.
Experts who advised the government disagree as to whether Japan – which has still not reported an explosive increase in cases like Italy and the United States – is in a crisis.
In one Hitoshi Oshitani, professor of virology at Tohoku University in northeastern Japan and government advisor, wrote on Twitter over the weekend that “the risk of infection is very low if people continue to live normally unless they go to trouble spots.” These places will defined by the government as “3 Cs” – enclosed spaces where crowds meet in the immediate vicinity.
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In Tokyo, the world’s largest city, cases have doubled to more than 1,000 in the past five days. Now some government advisors are warning of a dangerous new phase.
“Tokyo may have entered a phase of explosive and exponential growth,” said Hiroshi Nishiura, an epidemiology professor at Hokkaido University in northern Japan and a member of an expert panel advising the Japanese government, the Nikkei newspaper last week. “It is necessary to restrict going out more than telling people to exercise self-control,” said Professor Nishiura.
The Japanese constitution would have to be changed to impose and enforce a ban. The law passed last month, according to which Mr. Abe declared a state of emergency, does not give him the power to stay at home or force shops to close, as other badly affected countries have done. Mr. Abe can ask the governors of the prefecture to close schools and order builders to provide facilities for medical purposes. However, the authorities cannot take punitive measures against people who disregard proposals to stay indoors or work remotely.
Mikiko Eto, director of the Hatto Kindergarten in Tokyo, said she hoped the parents would adhere to the soft guidelines. Until last week, most of the 150 children who are regularly present still showed up every morning.
Despite daily temperature checks and frequent disinfection of toys and tables, employees worry about the infection with the corona virus, said Ms. Eto. “A lot of parents come and go,” she said, “which makes us stressed and nervous.”
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On Monday, Ms. Eto sent an email to the parents asking them to leave their children at home. About a third of the children didn’t come that day, she said. The prime minister said Tuesday that daycare facilities would not need to be closed, as some parents may still need care for their children.
The state of emergency comprises seven prefectures with approximately 56.1 million people; Japan’s total population is just under 127 million. Across Tokyo and other major cities, including Kobe, Osaka and Yokohama, citizens and businesses need to decide how to respond to the statement.
So far, health officials in Japan have assured the public that they have kept the virus at bay by closing schools, calling for cancellation of major sporting and cultural events, and warning people to avoid crowds in enclosed, unventilated spaces such as karaoke or bars Night clubs.
In contrast to other countries such as Germany and South Korea, which have achieved some success in combating the virus, Japan has not carried out extensive tests.
Up until last week, public health officials argued that rules that require hospitalization for all those who tested positive could overwhelm the health care system of slightly ill patients. The government has since changed the rule, and Mr. Abe said it secured 10,000 hotel rooms in Tokyo and 3,000 in the Kansai region, including Osaka, where patients with mild symptoms could relax. Up to 800 patients can also spend the night in the Olympic Village in Tokyo.
Infection clusters have formed in and around the capital. There have been outbreaks related to several hospitals in Tokyo, including a University center where 18 residents were infected after a dinner party and another in eastern Tokyo where at least 146 were infected and 16 died.
For the last two consecutive weekends, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike has asked residents to stay inside for everyone except the most important needs. It has encouraged people to do teleworking and avoid going out in the evening during the week.
In the popular nightlife and shopping areas, the amount has decreased, but the commuters were more resilient. According to In a survey by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, slightly more than one in eight respondents stated that they had worked as a preventive measure against the corona virus from home.
On Tuesday morning, before the emergency declaration came into force, many commuters with masks crowded the platforms at Shinjuku and Shibuya stations, two of the largest in Tokyo.
Since Japan still has a relatively small number of deaths – fewer than 100 so far – some don’t see the need to avoid any contact with others.
If packed trains were a problem, said Takuji Okubo, North Asia director of the Economist Corporate Network, “I think we would have seen a nightmare story in Japan.”
Mr. Okubo, who said he was more concerned about the potential damage to the economy – Mr. Abe also announced a $ 1 trillion stimulus package – added that he has a low risk of infection when shopping in department stores or eating see in restaurants.
Some experts are concerned that the Japanese government has focused too closely on its warnings about where infections can spread. Many of the latest cases cannot be attributed to a specific source of transmission, which means that health authorities do not know the conditions under which these infections occurred.
With the increasing number of undetected cases, medical experts are also concerned that Japan’s hospital capacity may quickly become overwhelmed. According to the The Japanese Intensive Care Society in Japan has five intensive care beds per 100,000 people, compared to almost 30 in Germany and 12 in Italy.
“In most countries, isn’t it that they dodge the bullet?” Said Dr. Keiji Fukuda, director of the School of Public Health at the University of Hong Kong. “It is only” when will it come? “This also applies to Japan.”
And while the Japanese are more likely to wear masks in public, the recent surge in Tokyo suggests that the facewear can’t offer complete protection.
“Even in a place where a lot of people wear masks,” said Dr. Peter Rabinowitz, co-director of the MetaCenter for Pandemic Prevention and Global Health Security at the University of Washington, “alone is probably not enough if there is no social distancing.” on top of the masks. “
As Japan’s outlook has deteriorated, some have adjusted. Masataka Morita, general manager of the PR department at Hitachi, the electronics giant, said he managed to get Skype meetings from home under one roof and helped take care of his three sons.
He can no longer visit his father, who has been hospitalized for four months for non-coronavirus disease. When he brought one of his sons to his mother last weekend, they decided to forego their usual trip to a sushi restaurant.
Last week he visited his office for about two hours. However, in a state of emergency, he said he would not do it again.