Corona-Virus: Japan and the crisis

corona in japan

Corona in Japan: What is the current situation in the land of the rising sun? Why are the case numbers so much lower than in China and South Korea?

Since December 2019 the new corona virus is spreading around the world and conquering country after country. This pandemic started – as we all know by now – in the Chinese city of Wuhan. From there it first spread to South Korea, Japan and the into the rest of the world. Therefore, of course the numbers of infections in China are tremendous. In addition, the infections in South Korea are in the ten-thousands, but Japan has no even 4000 official cases. (status: April 7th, 2020)

How far did covid-19 spread in the Japanese society?

Before we come to a conclusion on how safe it is to travel to Japan right now (without getting infected), we have a quick look at the facts on the corona virus and the norms in Japanese society. According to the official data, the infection with SARS-cov-2 goes with mild or even no symptoms for 80% of the population. Those people are still contagious. The virus is highly infectious and is transmitted via airborne infection. Infected people are contagious even before they show the first symptoms (usually fever and dry cough).

The Japanese society

japan riding the train

In Japan there is no such thing as continuation of payments to sick workers, when they have to stay home in bed. This usually means that Japanese people push themselves very hard (e.g. with energy drinks) to go to work, even if they should better stay home. The two other, less likely options are to take payed holidays (which is mostly 10 days per year in Japan) or non-payed holidays. During flu season Japanese people tend to wear simple face masks on a daily basis. Those masks are usually easy to find in every conbini, drug store and shopping arcade. But they were sold out everywhere for weeks in the big cities. Even now the masks could not be restocked everywhere, so Japanese head out without wearing a a face cover…

Not everything goes wrong in Japan, though. The schools (rather early on), the theme parks, tourist attractions, temples and shrines closed. Hanami (cherry blossom festivals) were cancelled. The companies try to establish home office and flex-time. By doing so, they try to reduce the amount of people in usually overcrowded public transportation during rush hours. So far for the theory… The result is that many Japanese are more cautious than normally and try to avoid the crowds. However, unfortunately many Japanese are also rather credulous. So they believed the government right away, when they announced: ‘We have the virus under control!’. So a lot of people went out to huddle around the cherry blossoms. They wanted to enjoy picknick and a drink with their families and friends (around March 20th, 2020).

Why has Japan such low infection numbers?

virus laboratory

A. Because Japanese take personal hygiene much more serious than the whole rest of the world? Not very likely.

B. Because most Japanese people are magically immun against a new virus that has never been there before? Certainly not.

C. Because Japan was preparing to host the olympics this year, had spent billions of yen beforehand, wanted to be seen as “safe country” in order to earn back the spent money through tourism and hence has not tested very much so far? Very, very likely!

Rising numbers after the Olympia cancellation

My theory is that there were very few testings for corona virus infections, because they wanted to conduct the olympic games at all means. Since the day when the games were cancelled for this year and the people went out to enjoy their hanami, the number of infections suddenly (and unexpectedly….) rose significantly. Finally on march 24th, 2020 the governors of Tokyo and the surrounding prefectures took action. They warned the people to not go to Tokyo city, if it is not an urgent and necessary matter. Because Tokyo is a hotspot for infections now…

O-Tone from the Japanese news (NHK) on this corona matter: ‘Japan is now (end of March) at a turn point in this corona crisis, because the numbers of infections go through the roof’. As of today, April 7th, Japan as officially reported 3906 cases. Just to put this number into perspective: USA 333.811, Spain 135.032, Italy 132.547 und Germany 99.225 reported cases. These numbers stem from the official WHO website (status: 07.04.2020).

Only very few deaths caused by Covid-19 in Japan

japan tokyo

Some will say now: ‘But what about the deaths? Almost no people died in Japan because of a Corona infection…!’ Those people I (as a biomedical professional and person with quite a bit of knowledge about Japan) explain how you can easily manipulate the figures to make them appear low.

Firstly, if living people are not even tested (or being tested only after having high fevers and severe symptoms for several days) then the doctors will not test passed away people after their death. Secondly, most people who die on this virus infection are old people (highest risk at 80 years and older) WITH previous health issues. Therefore, it is quite easy to cloud the real reason of death. Thirdly, a lot of old people in Japan live far outside the cities in the countryside where there is no to little public transportation and infrastructure. So there is no easy way to go to a hospital for a quick check-up. (They could have been infected by younger relatives or friends with mild symptoms, that stopped by for a visit). The resulting situation is easy to guess.

Should I travel to Japan in 2020?

tokyo sky tree with koinobori
osaka dotonbori evening

Of course I will not enjoin on anyone what they should or shouldn’t do, but I would not suggest it. Besides  the risk of infection, which I talked about earlier, Japan announced travel restrictions for people from certain European countries. The free tourist visa (visa at landing) for travelers from Germany, the Schengen-countries and other countries was paused. Even if you want to travel from let’s say Germany to Japan, you have to apply for a visa at the embassy. On top of that, as soon as you set foot into Japan, the officials will send you into quarantine for 14 days (at a pre-chosen place).

From March 27th, 2020 the Japanese officials established a travel ban for non-Japanese people from Germany and 21 other European countries. You can read about the details on the website of the German Embassy in Japan. If you are not a German citizen you should check your country’s embassy website. These rules are in place until the end of April for now. But it is not barred from a prolongation of the time period.

Flight tickets already booked?

If you booked your Journey to Japan this year already, we suggest that you inform yourself whether your airline grants special conditions for cancellation or change of reservations. Depending on your travel period, you should maybe wait and see in which way the situation in Japan develops during the next weeks and months. For example, if you were planning to fly in autumn, you still have quite a bit of time left for taking action at a later time point.

If you want to travel Japan anyways and the rules have been lifted for you travel period , we suggest to stay away from the big cities. Therefore it is a good advice to avoid crowds. On the other hand, Japan also has a gorgeous countryside (f. ex. in Kyushu) which is so worth a journey as well. Otherwise stay safe and sound at home!

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