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Japan declared a coronavirus emergency. It is too late?



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.

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.

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.

Last week he visited his office for about two hours. However, in a state of emergency, he said he would not do it again.


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