Japan risks second wave of coronavirus

As far back as we can remember, cleaners at 179 metro stations in Tokyo have diligently cleaned up each escalator handrail twice a day. With the appearance of the coronavirus in February, they increased the frequency and used a more powerful antiseptic solution.

Japan’s immaculate handrails and the calm raising of standards are just two examples used to explain the low number of coronavirus cases in the country since the start of the epidemic in China in January.

But the country’s low infection rate is now in question, with a spike in Tokyo alarming that Japan has been too complacent and is ready for a “second wave” of illness.

Tokyo reported 47 new infections on Thursday, the source of infection of which has been unknown for over 20. This marked the fourth day of a record one-day hike after 41 cases reported on Wednesday, bringing the total number of cases in Tokyo to 257. The increase prompted Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike to warn of “potentially explosive growth” in the new cases and that people should stay at home this weekend.

“Everyone needs to share a sense of urgency,” said Satoshi Hori, one of Japan’s leading infection control experts and a professor at Juntendo University. “But people are tired of showing restraint.”

Japan had seemed to be an outlier. Despite his initial sloppy quarantine management on the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Yokohama, he reported just over 1,300 infections and 45 deaths in a population of 127 m, excluding those related to the ship.

Experts are divided on the reasons. Japan is theoretically vulnerable to a dangerous and rapidly evolving epidemic, with a quarter of the population over the age of 65, high smoking rates and notoriously congested cities and public transport.

Less than 20% of companies have provisions for teleworking, according to government data, so although there has been a significant distance from offices and public transport, it has not been on a scale large enough to empty the commercial districts of the big cities.

Experts say that various factors favored Japan. They include habits such as bowing rather than shaking hands, removing shoes inside, regular provision of hand wipes in restaurants, and the fact that masks are standard during the seasons. flu and hay fever.

People gather near the Olympic flame in Fukushima. After the Games are postponed, Tokyo authorities have been warned of a possible city foreclosure © Jae C. Hong / AP

The country also has one of the most generous healthcare systems in the world and many older people live in rural areas far from their urban offspring. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s surprise decision to close schools from early March may also have helped.

But until recently, Japan tested the virus very selectively, arguing that it should focus on the seriously ill to avoid overwhelming hospitals. This helped keep official cases low, but also created potential pitfall by allowing Mr. Abe not to declare an emergency.

“It makes no sense that a neighboring country of China sees an expansion of cases only at the same time as European countries,” said Masahiro Kami, doctor and director of the Institute for Research on Medical Governance aiming non-profit. “It’s just a test question.”

The German embassy in Tokyo warned on Tuesday that the risk of infection in Japan “could not be seriously assessed” due to the lack of tests

The low number of official cases has given the public a potentially dangerous sense of security. After an initial phase of wearing a strict mask, disinfecting hands, social isolation and avoiding crowded places, Japan has spent the last two weeks in something close to normal life. The roads remain full of traffic, people join viewing evenings for the spring cherry blossom festival and the main shopping areas are bustling. Last Saturday, to the dismay of medical experts, 6,500 K-1 kickboxing fans crowded into the Saitama stadium, just north of Tokyo, despite efforts by the local government to cancel it.

Abe’s refusal to declare an emergency has led to accusations that his administration wants to maintain a “standstill” approach until the Tokyo 2020 Summer Games have been postponed – which government officials have said. denied.

But within 24 hours of the decision to delay the event, Tokyo governor Ms. Koike issued her warning of a possible foreclosure of the Japanese capital for the first time.

Professor Hori said the Japanese healthcare system would be in danger if there was a “tsunami” of infections in Tokyo. Hospitals have so far been successful in focusing on the critically ill. “But if there is an overshoot, even Tokyo would face a collapse in medical care,” he said, citing the shortage of doctors specializing in intensive care.

Japan has 13.1 hospital beds per 1,000 population, the highest ratio among the OECD countries. But there are only 2.4 medical practitioners per 1,000 – well below the OECD average 3.5.

Dr. Kami of the Medical Governance Research Institute rejected suggestions that the health system was in danger. But he said any foreclosure would cause deeper troubles and damage an economy already on the brink of a technical recession.

“Japan has taken a rational approach while limiting the number of deaths,” he said. “Its economy is already weak, so it has been difficult to do the type of foreclosure that has been done in China and the United States.”

However, changing Japanese attitudes after weeks of allowing them to operate in a relatively relaxed environment might not be easy. To show how difficult it could be, before a weekend in which residents of Japan’s largest cities were invited to stay indoors, none other than Prime Minister’s wife Akie Abe, been seen with a group of celebrities at a cherry blossom viewing party in central Tokyo.

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