Covid-19: Japan to declare state of emergency

Quoting a government official, the local media (both English and Japanese-language) are predicting the government wil declare a state of emergency from as early as Tue, April 7 in big cities such as Tokyo and Osaka, to initially last until May 6 (Golden Week).

“The move would give governors in hard-hit regions legal authority to ask people to stay home and businesses to close, but not to impose the kind of lockdowns seen in other countries. In most cases, there are no penalties for ignoring requests, although public compliance would likely increase with an emergency declaration.” (Japan Times)

The number of confirmed infections with the SARS-CoV-2 virus have doubled in a week or less in Tokyo, Osaka, Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba.

Here are the numbers on April 1 and April 6 and the corresponding doubling time in days:

  • Tokyo: 527 => 1033 (5.1d)
  • Kanagawa: 120 => 265 (4.4d)
  • Saitama: 98 => 185 (5.5d)
  • Chiba: 164 => 260 (7.5d)
  • Osaka: 245 => 408 (6.8d)
  • Hyogo: 147 => 203 (10.7d)
  • Aichi: 176 => 228 (13.4d)
  • Hokkaido: 177 => 194 (38d)

The growth rate in Tokyo and its neighbour prefectures Kanagawa and Saitama is similar now to growth in the US over the past couple of days (12-14% daily increase of total confirmed cases). The US expects daily deaths to peak at a rate of about double the current date rate in about 10 days if everybody follows social distancing rules.

Italy experienced similar growth levels around March 17, i.e. 20 days ago after it had been in shutdown for the first week. Over the next two weeks of total shutdown, Italy’s growth rate gradually dropped from 12-14% to 4% where it’s been stable for about a week now. It was only this weekend that the number of ICU beds in use slightly dropped, the first time since the beginning of the crisis in Italy.

I can see how the government would want to avoid hurting the economy in prefectures whose official case numbers are still low and therefore restricts the shutdown to only the worst-hit urban centers, but with no closed political borders it remains to be seen how effective a partial shutdown will be. Rural Japan has a much bigger elderly population than the cities. Will families in cities refrain from visiting their rural relatives? And will the population in the rest of Japan understand the severity of the situation when their prefecture is excluded from the shutdown?

Stories I have heard from friends of friends make me wonder.

One is invited to a wedding and the couple isn’t sure whether to go ahead, as there would be a huge cancellation fee to the hotel they booked. If the the government took action, this would no longer be a question.

Another was sick with a fever and breathing problems (i.e. symptoms matching Covid-19), yet the employer insisted he still come to work. I think that’s insane and outrageous.

A Japanese acquaintance I recently happened to meet still wanted to shake my hand when he saw me.

People who have been quarantined in Europe and North America have changed their thinking. In Japan this change of attitude was delayed by attempts to keep the Tokyo 2020 on course and now it will take time to turn the ship around.

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