As has been the case in many countries all over the world as of late, daily infection numbers are on the rise in Japan. After averaging around 500 to 700 new infections every day for most of September and October, since mid-November numbers have started multiplying rapidly. Today (10th of December 2020) a new record number was reached with over 2900 reported infections. The new average seems to be somewhere around the high 2000nds. It is hard to predict how the situation will develop going forward, but one cannot help but look at similar situations in Europe or America, where a similar pattern of a sudden increase in infections numbers soon spiralled out of control.
Interestingly, the government has done fairly little to actively combat the virus. While there have been calls to refrain from going out and meeting in public, these have been parroted by politicians here since the start of the pandemic, they have – so far – failed to reach the public with new and motivating slogans. There is a noticeable “Corona-fatigue”, with many people ignoring the requested self-regulations past the most basic ones. Granted, almost everyone is wearing masks, washing their hands regularly and making use of the disinfectant that is available everywhere you go. But for the most part, that’s it. People are commuting to work like normal, travelling (albeit only inland) like normal, meeting friends for dinner like normal. The only new development seems to be, that the traditional “Bounenkai (忘年会)”, parties held by companies at the end of the year for their employees, will not be held by many companies this year. But these are a left-over of a business-culture from a bygone era, with many young people despising these gatherings. So rather than self-regulation to prevent the spread of Corona, maybe this one is more down to companies seizing a chance to do away with an unloved custom. On the streets and in the offices of Tokyo, talk about the Coronavirus seems to have changed, with some people calling the virus “just another form of the common cold”.
Other than that, efforts by the government seem to mostly focus around keeping the economy intact, as well as to ensure that the Olympics can finally go-ahead next year. Japan has put an order in to buy enough vaccines to vaccinate all residents of Japan and hopes to be able to start vaccinating people from early next year, starting of course with those that are most vulnerable, e.g. elderly people and people suffering from existing conditions. There is also talk around allowing tourists back into the country around spring next year, the first waves of tourists would be heavily monitored, and then, starting with the Olympics, a complete opening of the country is also not off the table.
In summary, cases are rising, and hospital beds are becoming scarce, yet nothing seems to have changed in our daily lives. Government is banking hard on the vaccine being available early next year, so they can go ahead with their plans to hold the Olympics and open up the country to tourists again. It remains to be seen, as to whether this will prove to have been the right or the wrong call.
If you are interested, here is some further reading on the Coronavirus in Japan, here is a small collection of articles from this week.
- Reuters – COVID-19 clusters break out in Japan’s coldest city as winter closes
- JapanTimes – Story from resident stuck outside Japan
- JapanTimes – Japan considers limited resumption of inbound tourism
- WallStreetJournal – Japan Pulls Back From Cash Handouts