One Hundred Months of Centuries

One hundred consecutive months of at least one Century (i.e. a bike ride of 160.9+ km) a month complete! I started doing long distance bike rides in March 2012 and from September of that year started doing at least one Century per calendar month.

This latest ride in Izu covered 172.5 km (on Strava) and also added 24 VeloViewer tiles.

A ride in west Izu in December is almost like a personal tradition for me. As the weather turns drier in the winter there are so many nice Fuji views to be had and you can ride around the entire peninsula without climbing a single hill higher than 300 m.

Well, that’s the theory. But it actually rained for the first two hours and the return route through the center of the peninsula that I took to get back to Mishima had a climb to 650 m elevation and only 7 C in the dark. I had about 1,000 m of elevation gain on the way down to near Iwachi Onsen (south of Matsuzaki), but another 1,200 by replacing the hilly coastal road that I had come on with Rt15 and Amagi toge/Rt414 on the way back.

We met up at 8:00 at Mishima station. It had been raining on my drive on Tomei from Tokyo, but seemed to almost have stopped by the time we set off, so I left my rain gear in the small backpack I was wearing. The rain picked up again, bringing back memories of my rainy Fleche ride from Aizu to Tokyo in mid-October. Our first stop was at a 7-11 on the Izu north coast, before we headed out to the NW corner.

The Honshu coast was completely obscured by rain clouds, no views of Mt Fuji. However, gradually the sky brightened and the rain stopped. We bought some mikan from an unattended roadside stall (9 mikan for 300 yen) which we shared at a viewpoint overlooking Ida village.

First we could make out the side of the mountain, with snow visible at the top of the visible portion, just below the clouds. In Heda we visited the sandspit with the shrine. In clear weather you can view Mt Fuji behind the entrance to the local bay with the tori of the shrine in the woods on the sandspit from a small pier the locals use for fishing. The water there is crystal clear.

Then we climbed the biggest hill on the way to Toi, where we had Chinese lunch (because it was quick and December daylight is short). After that Jochem headed over the mountains to the center of the peninsula to catch a train back while Colin and I continued to Matsuzaki as fast as I could.

The rain had washed off all the chain lube and it was squeaking. I had to re-lube from my little container, which fixed it.

From Matsuzaki, Colin headed inland on Rt15 to get to Shimoda while I continued towards Iwachi onsen / Kumomi onsen. On a hill overlooking the Matsuzaki coast I took pictures when three Japanese road cyclists came up. We started to chat. In the end it turned out one lived in my neighbourhood (within half a km) and I had met with one of the others at a Half-Fast meeting a couple of years ago! The world is such a small place 🙂

Since I was running out of daylight, I headed back north and took the same route Colin had taken. From north of Shimoda I headed towards Amagi toge. My feet were wet the whole day from the rain, even though I had bought a simple pair of socks at a convenience store to change, because the shoes were still wet. My fleece trousers were also moist from not wearing the rain pants in the morning. So I wasn’t very comfortable, despite wearing the rain jacket as an extra layer. Dry feet are crucial for comfort and I resolved I will finally do something about keeping my shoes dry in the rain.

In one place the road passes a corkscrew-like ramp. The whole climb is very steady, mostly 5-7%, so not difficult but just long. It’s about as much climbing as Yabitsu pass, but less steep. The road is kind of remote, with no houses around and I could hear many deer whistling in the forest, but cars were passing quite regularly. North of the tunnel at the top of Amagi pass it was a loooong descent (more than 20 km of coasting). Once that leveled off I could follow the river and main roads back to Mishima, with no significant climbs.

I got back home around 01:00 in the morning, showered and went to bed. It felt good to have done the big ride for the month and extended the streak into the triple digits, which was my aim for the whole year.

Izu is always well worth a visit.

I don’t know how many more Centuries I’ll manage in December but I plan to continue in January 🙂

My team “Maillot 24Tokyo” ride of AR Nihonbashi Flèche 2020

The Fleche Nihonbashi 2020 (フレッシュ日本橋2020) will remain my longest ride of the year, I am sure. I rode 403 km from the hotel in Aichi where we set off on Saturday at 06:30 to my home in Tokyo on Sunday (on Strava). During that time I slept 3 1/2 hours and experienced 18 hours of rain.

In a Fleche, teams of 3-5 bicycles have 24 hours to ride a distance of at least 360 km towards a central meeting point. I had successfully participated in a Fleche in 2019. Two members of the 5 person team this year were different from last year. Like last year, only 4 of them actually rode.

Our event team name was “Maillot 24 Tokyo”, a pun on the fact that we were going to ride 24 hours (“ni shi”) to Tokyo in our new AJ NishiTokyo jerseys. The 2020 run was originally scheduled for April but due to Covid-19 it got pushed to October 17-18. Because virtually no randonneuring events have taken place from April to September, many randonneurs’ fitness has suffered and DNS (“did not start”) is more common than usual.

I had been watching the weather forecast closely. Our start was in Toyohashi, Aichi prefecture and the planned goal in Totsuka, Kanagawa. Normally, the prevailing wind conditions would give you something of a tailwind along this relatively flat course. We had only about 1000 m of elevation gain in the first 2/3 (240 km) of the ride. However, as the date of the ride came closer the forecast became rainier by the day. Ultimately it rained on Saturday from before the start to when we decided to officially DNF (did not finish) in Okitsu, Shizuoka after midnight. The north-easterly headwind that we had for most of Saturday more than made up for the relatively flat course. That and three punctures by one team member meant we could not finish within the time limit. We did finish the ride on Sunday after just a few hours of sleep at a Kenkoland hotel and public bath, riding back to Kanagawa and Tokyo together.

I made my way to Toyohashi by car on Friday. Everybody else took the shinkansen. I drove to Lake Hamana (Hamanako) halfway between Hamamatsu and Toyohashi. There I unloaded the bike after which my wife and daughter headed back in our car for a separate adventure. After 26 km I arrived at the hotel a little after noon. Since I couldn’t get into my room until 15:00 I first had lunch at a convenience store on us tax payers (1000 yen Go To Travel coupon) and then explored the city by bike. Toyohashi has a castle museum, which is free to visit, in what is now the city park (formerly the castle grounds). After I checked into my room the other participants arrived, minus one who chose to DNS due to the weather forecast. What a sensible person! 🙂

While preparing the bike in the morning I decided that I was going to be too warm in my full rain gear, even with 11 C. I wore my rain jacket on top of my base layer and team jersey, but not the rain trousers — just my regular uniqlo shorts (65% / 35% polyester / cotton). Only on the last convenience store stop before sunset did I finally put on the rain trousers, as well as a windbreaker under the rain jacket. That was perfect temperature-wise.

The weather was very gloomy all day, with a steady drizzle and wind. There were no other cyclists around as we headed out 45 km to Cape Irago, the westernmost point of our ride. 7 km later we did our first convenience store stop for a 15 minute break. Then we headed east along the coastal road. After about 105 km we stopped for lunch (ramen and gyoza). It was only 11 C for most of the morning. I think the warmest we saw was 16 C around Shizuoka-shi.

These are two of the 5 bridges running side by side on the southern end of Lake Hamana, where it drains towards the Pacific.

Hamamatsu in Shizuoka is home to both Kawai and Yamaha pianos. You can actually tour the factories by appointment (or at least you could before Covid, not that we would have had time for that). Both Aichi and Shizuoka have a lot of Japanese-Brazilian immigrant workers, so Portuguese tends to be a common second language on signage, like Russian in parts of Hokkaido and English in the rest of Japan:

The Hamaoka Nuclear Power Station in Shizuoka is one of the most tsunami-exposed plants in Japan and mostly upwind from Tokyo. It sits directly above a fault line where two tectonic plates meet in a subduction zone (the most dangerous type of fault line – 9 of 10 of the biggest earthquakes in the last 100 years happened at subduction zones). All 5 units at Hamaoka were shut down in 2011 and a planned sixth unit was cancelled.

After 166 km we passed Omaezaki, another cape. The Shizuoka coastline turns north there. From there we were heading up Suruga bay, with the west coast of Izu across the sea. You could have admired the west Izu coast and Mt Fuji if the weather had been good, which of course it wasn’t. 2 km after we took checkpoint pictures at the cape we stopped at another convenience store. I completed my rain wear and thermal layering as it would soon get dark.

At one point we lost two riders at the back and turned around to find them fixing a front wheel puncture in the dark. Later in the ride the same bike punctured at the rear wheel, twice. Eventually we used up all 700C spare tubes we had (two of us ride 650B and rely strictly on our own tubes).

By then it was getting clear that we could not stick to the time plan and that we wouldn’t make it in time. The headwind and rain were too much of an obstacle to that and the punctures didn’t help. We stopped for dinner at a Cocos restaurant. Our ride leader suggested taking a break for the night at Kenkoland Suruga in Okitsu, where he had rested at brevets before. I was very reluctant to do that as it would effectively have cut my biggest ride of the year in two. For me, technically one ride ends once I sleep in a bed. Ultimately I am very glad though that I finally went along with the change of plan. I would have missed the best part, even if that 403 km ride sort of is two rides now.

Close to 1:00 we parked our bikes in the car park of the Kenkoland. Fortunately rooms were still available and Go To Travel discounted the room rate with breakfast. I set the alarm for 05:30 and was out like a match after my head touched the pillow. When I looked out of the window in the morning the rain had stopped. On the very left I could make out one side of Mt Fuji with fresh snow on top, then many smokestacks of chemical plants near Fuji City, with the Izu coastline to the right. I was very happy about the change in weather. Breakfast started at 06:00 and we were out and on the road again around 07:00.

Within minutes we got great views of Mt Fuji. Our course joined the Old Tokaido road, on which people had travelled on foot between Kyoto and Edo back in the old days.

About 260 km from the start we crossed the bridge over the Fuji river, which is a big turning point in the 300 and 400 km brevet courses of AJ NishiTokyo. Here the ride joined up with rides from Tokyo that I had done before. It’s crazy when you feel like you’re almost home but actually still have to cycle another 140 km! 🙂 Somewhere on the way to Numazu we switched from the road to a bicycle path on top of the tsunami barrier at the beach, which continued for many km. The views from there were fantastic and we took time for pictures, now that we didn’t have an arrival time to beat.

After Numazu and Mishima the road climbed into the mountains south of Hakone to Atami pass. I had crossed Izu only at Hakone or further south between Shuzenji and Ito. More Fuji views in the mountains. On about 10 km we did one fifth of the total climbing of the 400+ km ride. We passed the MOA, an art museum near Atami. The descent to Atami was very steep and treacherous (one minor crash but the rider could continue). I was glad I had disk brakes and wide tires for traction.

Once we got closer to Odawara,traffic got quite bad, as it usually does on a Sunday there, especially as this was a day with decent weather immediately after a rainy day.

As we had officially called in our DNF already, we were all free to go any way that would work for us. The ride leader and another member headed to Odawara station to have a meal together before using their rinko bags for the train ride home. Another member and and I cycled back another 73 km to Tokyo via Rt135 and then Rt246 which again was very busy. But we got home safely about 36 hours after we had started.

A few things I took home from this ride:

Preparation for an event like that is really important. I had all the clothes I needed, all the cables and other electronic gear, no issues whatsoever and I also didn’t really carry anything bulky or heavy that was unneeded on this ride. Recent rides in cooler and partially wet weather had helped me figure what clothes to bring.

Physically I was well prepared due to my recent long rides. It was my 10th ride of 150+ km since the beginning of August. One of them was another brevet (i.e. with time limits), others were rides with faster friends (Thanks, Peter!).

I was very happy with the new GPS. The Wahoo Elemnt Bolt performed flawlessly. I rode the last 160 km without recharging, but on Saturday I could also charge it on the handlebar in the rain without issues. I loved the way it announced turns from the RWGPS cue sheet. The maps on the unit aren’t great but workable until you zoom out too far.

Sleep planning also worked well. I got sufficient sleep the week before. The day before the ride I got up early, which made it easy to go to bed early and fall asleep easily the night before the ride. The short night at the Kenkoland worked out pretty well too.

Two major changes I would make:

I need mud flaps for the mudguards to keep spray off the shoes, especially going through puddles on the road. That would also prevent lubrication issues on the chain. I had to relube with donated chain lubricant on the second morning (I had some in the bottom of the bag but my friends saved me from having to search for it) as the splashing water had washed off too much oil.

And I want some shoe covers for the rain, to definitely make sure my socks will stay dry when it’s wet out there. I had brought a second pair of dry socks which I used on day 2, but I could have done better with proper shoe covers.

I am glad I didn’t stubbornly continue the ride on my own without a hotel stop in the early hours of Sunday. Day Two was much more enjoyable with my friends and safer too.

I would join another Fleche ride in a heart beat. With a good team it’s one of the most enjoyable formats of randonneuring.

See also:

Rakuten Mobile and Google Pixel 3 / Pixel 3a

In mid-2019 the time came to change my mobile phone contract. For some reason mobile phone carriers in Japan do not want to reward your loyalty if you stick with them beyond the initial contract period and instead stiff you through higher prices or reduced discounts once the contract renews after 24 or 25 months. To me that’s just stupid, but anyway that’s how I had ended up with a Softbank Mobile contract and a new Google Pixel 3a after two years with UQ Mobile.

Now Rakuten Mobile had entered the ring to challenge the big three operators (docomo, au and Softbank), offering their “Rakuten UN-LIMIT V” which is free for 12 months for the first 3 million customers and has no penalty for cancelling after that. On paper it’s an offer with which you can’t loose. Rakuten’s network is still being built up from scratch, but the company has a roaming deal with au to give sufficient coverage until then. The plan includes 5 GB of data per month in the roaming area as well as 2 GB per month in 66 countries abroad (most of the destinations for international business travelers). I was willing to give it a try, even though they did not explicitly guarantee an unlocked Google Pixel 3a would work with their network. But we’re talking about Google, right? This is a trillion dollar company making some of the best phones outside of Apple and responsible for the operating system running on 3 out of 4 smartphones worldwide.

So I took the leap of faith and applied for MNP (mobile number portability) from my old carrier. Then I applied for “Rakuten UN-LIMIT V”. A few days later an envelope arrived from Rakuten Mobile with a new SIM card. When I activated the new SIM, the old Softbank SIM was disabled and the phone lost network access. I followed the printed instructions for swapping the SIM card but no joy: The new SIM card didn’t start working. Even after I manually selected the new APN (it wasn’t activated by default), the phone did not receive a phone number and there was no mobile data access, only WiFi. I googled the problem and found some blog posts with work-arounds that only work on Rakuten’s own network, not the roaming areas. Even so, I couldn’t make it work. My Pixel 3a didn’t even see any Rakuten network in the area where I live, densely populated Setagaya in Tokyo. I even tried the Rakuten SIM in my other phone, a Pixel 3 purchased off Amazon in the US. Same problem, no data. I called support and they told me what I already knew, that the Google Pixel 3 and Google Pixel 3a are not on their supported list. The list of supported devices for the Rakuten UN-LIMIT V service mentions the Google Pixel 4, Pixel 4 XL and Pixel 4a but no Pixel 3 or 3a. For Rakuten with Docomo lines or au lines they list the Docomo Pixel 3a as the only compatible device from Google.

Rakuten Mobile support told me I could either buy a different phone or transfer the number to another provider or give up the number altogether.

So I requested an MNP number from Rakuten Mobile (3000 yen + tax) to move on and applied for a voice + data SIM from a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO). Three days later I had that SIM in my mailbox. I plugged it in, followed the phone-based activation procedure and 10 minutes later had a working phone again, with voice, SMS and 3 GB of data for 1600 yen a month + tax.

I really hope Rakuten will get its act together. The Japanese oligopoly of docomo, au and Softbank with difficult to understand but ultimately overpriced plans needs some real competition. But if they are serious, how can they not support Google’s flagship phones? Rakuten blew a one time chance to gain a loyal customer. Meanwhile I’m happy with IIJmio, the service I signed up for.

Japan Allows Foreign Residents to Leave and Come Back

Imagine having permanent residency in a country, owning a home there and paying a mortgage on it, having a job and paying taxes, your kids were born in the country and go to school there and you’ve been paying health insurance and pension contributions. Yet, once you leave you are not allowed back into the country where you live. That is what Japan has been like for the last five months for any resident holding a non-Japanese passport. Meanwhile Japanese citizens where free to travel to Europe and come back to Japan. Also, Japanese citizens living in the EU, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand were able to travel to Japan and then return to their homes in the respective countries as long as they observed applicable quarantine rules.

Japan was the only G7 country treating permanent resident different from its citizens with regards to returning after a trip abroad. This policy led to criticism by the international community but also by Japanese businesses who understand how this discrimination hurts Japanese prospects as a country to invest in and do business with. Because of this discrimination, Germany suspended non-resident Japanese from being able to visit Germany until Japan grants the same travel rights to resident EU citizens as the EU grants to resident Japanese citizen.

The criticism and sanctions worked and Japan has finally announced a change in their policy. From September 1, foreign residents of Japan will be able to travel abroad and later return to Japan again, provided they follow some regulations. Before they depart they will have to agree to comply with enhanced quarantine regulations on return. Before they return they will have to take a PCR test and provide a negative test result. Besides the test result, they will need to provide a form filled in and signed or stamped by the hospital or doctor conducting the test (link, Microsft Word .docx format). They will be tested again on arrival. If the test is negative, they can go home to quarantine themselves for 14 days, provided they don’t use public transport (i.e. they must use a hire car or be picked up in a private vehicle).

Here is a PDF with details of the new policy.

Permanent Residents Still Banned from Reentering Japan

It’s been more than a year since I last visited my mother, who is 80 years old. I am a permanent resident of Japan, but if I go and see her in Germany, I will not be able to return to the country where I live with my wife and kids, own a home, run a business and have been paying taxes for the last 27 years.

Japan is currently the only G7 country that discriminates between citizens and permanent residents on their right to return to their place of residence. While EU countries, the United States, Britain, Canada and Australia exempt not only citizens but also legal permanent residents and other long-term visa holders from the current SARS-CoV-2 related travel restrictions, Japan does not. Once you leave, you can’t come back.

Japanese citizens may still enter Japan if they have spent time in any of 119 countries on the banned list during the last 14 days. They are expected to take a PCR test when they arrive back at the Narita or Haneda airport but if the test is negative, they can travel to their home as long as they avoid public transport (i.e. they can get picked up by family or hire a car and driver). They are then expected to self-quarantine for two weeks. Apparently it’s still OK for them to buy their own groceries while in quarantine. Unlike quarantines in Taiwan their movements are not monitored in any way (e.g. no GPS tracking, no random phone calls).

At this time, foreign Permanent Residents and spouses of Japanese Nationals may only enter Japan if they had already left before the ban on the country they visited was imposed (April 3 for EU countries). In this case they are expected to self-quarantine the same way as Japanese citizens.

If they leave after the ban was imposed, for example now, then they will only be readmitted if they have left for specific humanitarian reasons, such as visiting a dying close relative or attending their funeral or for urgent medical reasons. They will have to show evidence of this to an immigration officer when they leave and even then they will not be guaranteed that they will be re-admitted. They will actually have to sign a disclaimer telling them as much. The decision is always up to the immigration officer when they re-enter.

Holders of other Japanese visa, such as people on student visas, can not enter Japan, even if they had traveled abroad before the entry ban was imposed. They are stuck outside, though this may get addressed in coming weeks.

EU countries and all other G7 countries will admit both their citizens and legal long-term residents (with appropriate quarantine rules). If you are a Japanese citizen who is resident in Düsseldorf or London or Los Angeles, you will be able to travel freely between your home and Japan, for whatever reason, as long as you observe quarantine regulations. If however you are a non-Japanese Permanent Resident of Japan who lives there, owns a home there, pays taxes there and has lived there for decades, if you were to travel back to your native country for business or to visit your family, you would be indefinitely prevented from re-entering Japan, regardless of any Covid-19 tests or quarantine period you are willing to submit yourself to.

The Japanese government is talking about opening Japan to business travellers from selected countries in the region, followed by students on student visas and finally tourists. No mention is being made in this plan of the fate of residents based in Japan, as if they did not exist.

In July the European Union opened the EU for travel from a selected list of countries with relatively low prevalence of Covid-19, including Australia, New Zealand and Canada. However, the German government announced that China, South Korea and Japan will only be added to this list once they reciprocate and treat EU citizens the same as the EU treats their citizens. Let’s hope that Japan will soon amend its rules.

Covid-19 in Japan: Numbers vs. Testing

Every day Tokyoites are anxiously waiting for the latest daily count of new confirmed Covid cases: Is it less than 200 or more than 200? It was a big thing when it first exceeded 100. On April 11, it barely missed the next big number with 197 cases. But what does it really mean?

“Cases of Covid-19 confirmed with PCR tests” depends as much on the number of tests conducted as the actual number of people newly infected. Anyone not tested is by definition not included in the count. Until now, anyone testing positive has been sent to a hospital, which supposedly is legally required (only recently have light cases been moved out to specially rented hotel rooms). Therefore hospitals have been reserving tests to people with the most severe symptoms or with pre-existing conditions so that the most deserving patients will occupy the limited hospital beds they can take up.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but the primary purpose of testing has not been to track the growth of infections but to allocate hospital beds. The number does not reflect reality as it is artificially throttled. As long as this policy continues, new confirmed cases will basically only be allowed to grow at a rate at which hospital beds are found for them, which is becoming increasingly difficult, as more and more hospitals are turning away new patients to avoid healthcare associated infections (HAI). There have been a number of cases of infection hotspots in hospitals.

An article in the The Atlantic discusses positivity, the rate of confirmed infections found as a share of tests conducted in different states and countries (please don’t confuse this with prevalence, the rate of infected people as a percentage of the population).

Basically, the higher the percentage of tests that come out positive, the more likely a country or region is to be undercounting infections, for example because of limited lab capacities or limited access to hospitals that can do testing:

“[W]hile the U.S. has a 20 percent positivity rate, South Korea’s is only about 2 percent—a full order of magnitude smaller.

South Korea is not alone in bringing its positivity rate down: America’s figure dwarfs that of almost every other developed country. Canada, Germany and Denmark have positivity rates from 6 to 8 percent. Australia and New Zealand have 2 percent positivity rates. Even Italy—which faced one of the world’s most ravaging outbreaks—has a 15 percent rate. It has found nearly 160,000 cases and conducted more than a million tests. Virtually the only wealthy country with a larger positivity rate than the U.S. is the United Kingdom, where more than 30 percent of people tested for the virus have been positive.

Comparing American states to regions in other countries results in the same general pattern. In Lombardy, the hardest hit part of Italy, the positive rate today stands at about 28 percent. That’s comparable to the rate in Connecticut. But New York, so far the hardest hit state in the U.S., has an even higher rate of 41 percent. And in New Jersey, an astounding one in two people tested for the virus are found to have it.”

(The Atlantic, 2020-04-16)

So what this tells us is that a high positive rate in the tests conducted indicates a higher rate of uncounted cases that the system can’t keep up with.

What does that mean about the potential undercounting of explosive infection growth in Japan and specifically in Tokyo? According to statistics published by the Tokyo Metropolitan government on its website, by yesterday (April 16) Tokyo had 2,595 confirmed Covid-19 cases out of 7,244 cases tested. That’s a positivity of 36%, higher than the positivity for the UK (30%), Lombardy and Connecticut (28%), the US overall (20%), Italy (15%) and Canada, Germany or Denmark (6-8%). Only New York and New Jersey are worse.

Recently, Germany has been running 350,000 tests per week and is capable of running up to 500,000 tests per week. Tests are analyzed 7 days a week, 24 hours a day using shift work in the labs. Japan, with a population 52% larger, has averaged 22,000 tested individuals per week over the past two weeks (Apr 2-15).

Don’t take any comfort from numbers staying flat or growing moderately unless testing is also expanded exponentially to keep up with and exceed the growth rate of virus cases. Without greatly expanded testing, we’re like a pilot flying blind in a cloud without radar. Beware of the mountains ahead.

See also:

Covid-19 in Japan: Where are the experts?

America has Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx, who provide scientific information at White House press conferences.

Germany has Prof. Dr. Lothar Wieler of the Robert Koch Institute, who speaks at biweekly press briefings. Dr Christian Drosten, chief virologist at the Charité hospital in Berlin, has provided frequent commentary to the public.

Where are these experts in Japan? The briefings I have watched in Japan primarily involved Prime Minister Abe Shinzo and Governer of Tokyo Koike Yuriko.

Yes, individuals scientists have been interviewed by the “wide shows” entertainment programs, but why are they not given a prominent official role in shaping public responses to the epidemic? Yes, the declaration of emergency is supposed to be based on the discussions of a circle of experts, but we don’t directly hear from them. It’s only the government that consults with them.

The impression this creates is that the decisions being made are ultimately driven by political and economic considerations, which take priority over any medical interpretation of the situation.

As Son Masayoshi of Softbank pointed out in a recent tweet, it is strange that in Japan Covid-19 policy is spearheaded by the Minister of Economic Revitalization instead of a health expert such as Dr. Fauci in the US. That tells you all you need to know about the priorities of the Abe government.

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.

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.


Covid-19 mortality in Germany

There have been many comments on the relatively low mortality in Germany relative to the number of confirmed cases. The median age of infected persons in Germany is 47 compared to 64 years in Italy. Many Germans were infected while skiing in Austria or northern Italy (the same is true for Norway and Iceland, which also imported the problem this way) and these younger, healthier patients have a lower risk of severe outcomes.

Germany has relied heavily on PCR testing from an early stage. Because of this the total number of confirmed cases includes many light cases that might otherwise have remained undetected. Last week about 350,000 PCR tests were performed in Germany, an average of 50,000 a day. This compares to 28,000 people in total who have been tested in Japan so far. Japan’s population is about 50% larger than Germany’s.

By tracing these mostly mild cases with large scale PCR testing, the authorities have prevented the spread to other more at risk groups of the population.

The youngest person in Germany to die from Covid-19 so far was 28 years old and had a pre-existing condition.

There is a distinct gender bias in fatality. 84% of the 31 persons under 60 to die were male (26m, 5f). 73% of the 44 persons between 60-69 were male (32m, 12f). In the 70-79 bracket, 78% of the 130 who died were male (102m, 28f). For 80-89, the largest age group with 305 deaths, the ratio is 61% male (185m, 120f) even though far fewer men reach this age than women. Even in the 90 and above bracket (71 deaths), male deaths still outnumber female deaths (38m, 33f).

On March 30, the number of new infections in Germany dropped close to the number of fresh recoveries (4,450 vs. 4,289), which recently increased. Combined with 104 deaths this meant that the number of active cases (total confirmed infections – deaths – recoveries) only climbed by 57 or 0.1%. This is the lowest rate of increase since the start of the epidemic, which if it continues gives reason to be hopeful.