Japan struggles to get a grip on social distancing

Japan Times -- Mar 31
Japan’s approach to halting the coronavirus pandemic might seem to other nations around the world like it is very social, and not so distant.

As communities from Milan to Melbourne find themselves compelled to hunker down in their homes, peeking through the curtains at a world they once roamed freely, life in Japan in the time of the new coronavirus has been much like it ever was, save for some extra hygienic precautions.

Major sporting events have been disrupted or are being played behind closed doors. Companies are asking workers to consider working from home. And the spring tradition of spending time under cherry blossom trees is now more about strolling than sitting.

Until very recently, authorities had not felt the need to impose stricter measures in Tokyo, home to nearly 14 million people. Only on Wednesday did Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike request that citizens stay indoors over the weekend, citing “an important phase in preventing an explosive rise.”

One message to the public, however, has gotten through clearly: wash your hands, wear masks on public transportation to be considerate of others and avoid contact with the elderly and others vulnerable to the pneumonia-causing illness.

While the Diet gave Prime Minister Shinzo Abe the authority to declare a state of emergency if the situation worsens, raising questions about restrictions on individual freedoms, social distancing Japan-style has been embraced, perhaps because it is so frictionless.

Compared with draconian measures imposed in China and lockdowns in Europe and the United States, freedom to live life as normal amid the pandemic has been a reality for most in Japan. But this appears to have more to do with the current situation regarding the virus in the country and the government’s stance, thus far, than a sense of ignorance or naivete.

- Japan Times