Coronavirus fatigue grips Japan

3 min read
Coronavirus fatigue grips Japan

In the early days of Corona virus it seemed that Japan had escaped a heavy uptick of Coronavirus cases. The government was praised for its soft lockdown strategy, where people were asked to 'refrain from activities', but never legally required to do so. Internationally this strategy was lovingly called the "Japan Model". In May, cases went down as low as 14 confirmed cases per day. Getting an effective grip on the Coronavirus, while maintaining economic activity and low unemployment prompted international praise. The WHO chief even called the strategy a 'success'. However fast forward to August, and new cases country wide have risen above 800 per day, with no end in sight.

Contradicting government campaigns to support the economy such as the recent 'Go-to travel' campaign have prompted criticism. The campaign was designed to promote travel within Japan, which would in effect help the country's wide array of hotels and onsen.  In a last minute save-of-face, the campaign excluded Tokyo residents, as local governments were strongly against people coming in from highly affected regions. The Tokyo governor went against the campaign and asked residents to 'not travel'. Conflicting governmental signals have raised the question: 'Should people be staying home or going out?'

Many other countries have reported vast misinformation campaigns about, masks, or other basic facts involving Coronavirus. Japan has mostly been immune to this until recently. A novel misinformation campaign has been circling in social media, which seeks to discredit government reporting of Coronavirus data. The argument goes, the Japanese word 'Yousei 陽性' is not the same as 'Kansen-sha'. The first means cases that were tested and shown to be positive for Coronavirus, the second means people infected and able to spread the disease. The misinformation seeks to have readers believe that cases which test positive are not the same as people who are able to spread the disease, and in reality the case numbers in Japan are much lower. One may get a small does of Coronavirus but not be affected by it, and may not be able to spread it. In this case if you were tested you would be Yousei, but not kansen-sha. This idea is trending in-spite of scientific facts against it. The more common assumption up-to recently, has been if you are tested positive, you can spread the disease.

After months of social distancing it seems that people are more willing to believe any good news, fact or fiction, a telling sign the country has reached a new level of Coronavirus fatigue. A nightmare scenario wherever it occurs. What happens when people stop caring? Schools open up. Summer activities are on! Team sports let's go. Remote work: what's that again? Travel, meeting and drinking with friends, visiting family in other prefectures, etc, have all become completely unencumbered during the summer. The outlook for the coming months is very stark, particularly because Japan is the country with the world's oldest population.

Coronavirus fatigue is not just for normal people, even government agencies seem to be worn out and at a complete loss on what to do next. Another state-of-emergency has been deemed very unlikely for economic reasons. The national government, which appears to have run out of ideas, is pushing responsibilities to local governments. In Japan, government is normally very centralized but now it finds its self in disarray with local governments looking to stop the curve, while the national government prioritizes the economy.

A middle aged Japanese parent commented, 'What are we supposed to do stay home until winter? My kids need to get out and play, and see their friends. Everyone else is out, traveling and having a good summer'. Illustrating how perceptions have changed. While an elderly patron at a rustic coffee shop commented, 'I am just staying away from the young. Most places I go to they do not go to. If I stay away from them, I hope I will not be infected'. When we asked her about her grandchildren, 'Yes, they came over last weekend. But that's not the same'.

A graduate from Showa's Women University commented 'Some people from Tokyo think it is safer to travel outside of Tokyo rather than stay inside. An idea that is good for them, but needs to be strongly discouraged. People in more rural region think it is ok, as long as they travel by car.' Highlighting the dire situation, within a culture that strongly encourages traveling during Japanese summer (August).


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