Covid-19: Fleeing to the countryside

Following the “not a lockdown” in Tokyo and 6 other prefectures, the summer resort town of Karuizawa has reportedly experienced an influx of cars with Tokyo license plates as Tokyo residents with second homes (bessō) in the area are flocking to the town in Nagano that is not yet subject to the restrictions.

I would expect a similar pattern to unfold in resort areas around Yamanakako and Izu (in Yamanashi and Shizuoka, also not among the 7 prefectures).

Not only does this exodus from the city risk the spread of infections to prefectures that currently still have a lower incidence of Covid-19, it could also have infected bessō owners take up rural hospital beds then no longer available for the local population after they also get infected.

Other countries have clear policies that discourage people from dashing to second homes, which earned Prince Charles some criticism for self-quarantining in Scotland and cost Scotland’s chief medical officer her job. Don’t get me wrong, I understand why they’re doing it, but it’s selfish and against the spirit of sheltering in place. Why should others stay put in their tiny Tokyo apartments when some can drive across the country?

While it can be said that refugees from the city will spread the load on the health care system between urban and rural hospitals, that is something the national government should be thinking about, not something only those rich enough to own two or more homes to take advantage of.

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