The spreading of Corona

During the March 28th press conference concerning the state of the Corona virus in Japan, prime minister Abe Shinzo wasted no time discussing the urgency of the situation. He began by addressing the recent boom of the number of cases, noting the unprecedented increase of over 100,000 infected persons worldwide in merely 2 days. The prime minister continued by acknowledging the very serious possibility of a similar rapid spread of the virus occurring in Japan, especially in clustered cities such as Tokyo and Osaka. Unlike countries such as Italy or France, many businesses in Japan are still open, and going to work for many citizens involves long, very crowded, and very cramped commutes via public transportation. Recent uneasiness over the actual number of cases in the Tokyo area combined with an announcement strongly encouraging people to stay indoors this weekend from Tokyo’s mayor has led to panic buying, leaving many supermarket’s shelves barren.

A supply shortage crisis

An empty rack with a note informing buyers that masks have sold out

The primary concerns are about shortages of toilet paper and facial masks. Some stores in Japan are trying to reduce overbuying by restricting the number of items that can be bought by one person. However, even with these measures in place, finding a box of masks or toilet paper can be a challenging task, notably around larger cities. When stocks of masks and other supplies do come in, lines can form as early as dawn and people can be seen waiting for hours before stores open to get their supplies. When asked about the shortage of masks, Prime Minister Abe explained that 80% of Japan’s masks are supplied from China, which is currently focused on producing not only masks for themselves, but the rest of the world as well. From within Japan, measures are being taken to catch up with the unanticipated demand by placing large orders from overseas and focusing on mask production in the country in places like Aichi prefecture, but he admitted the current number of masks simply cannot keep up with such a rapid demand.

The inevitability of more cases

Commuters cram into a crowded train

Prime minister Abe went on to say that while Japan’s number of cases may seem low compared to the United States, the 2-week incubation period of the virus has the potential to lead to an explosion of cases in Japan as well. To help reduce the number of COV-19 cases, prime minister Abe strongly urged citizens to avoid enclosed places, large crowds and engaging in close, face-to-face conversations. Unfortunately, avoiding such places seems unlikely as anyone who has lived through a train commute during Japan’s rush hour knows. It seems that the government is also preparing for the worst-case with minister Abe repeatedly remarking how drastically the number of cases can rise and saying that tactics are prepared to be changed in the coming days after consulting with experts. Similar lines during the prime minister`s address such as, “we must be prepared for the challenge of a sudden expansion of cases,” leads me to believe that the Japanese government understands the reality of the situation and is predicting a large increase in cases.

Government action

Following his statement, minister Abe spoke on a question about potential payments to citizens who have lost work and are in struggling financially. He said that payments will be issued out to citizens who have been affected financially, but that job retention is the main priority. Details were not given about these government stimulus packages to citizens or how they would be implemented. When asked about Tokyo lockdown rumors, Abe assured the press that unlike the complete lockdown of other countries, any measures currently taken will be given in the form of instructions or requests and asked for the cooperation of all citizens.