Japan’s Corona Dilemma

With PM Suga talking about the state of emergency he will declare (probably tomorrow, January 7 Japan time), today saw 1591 new Covid-19 cases in Tokyo, a new daily record and a large jump from yesterday.

The state of emergency being discussed will not give the government any power to enforce what they are simply requesting people and businesses to do to prevent Japan from getting into even worse trouble as the corona pandemic progresses.

It has been clearly demonstrated that simply asking people not to go out and not to gather for eating and drinking has had very little effect. People simply do not comply with the requests. And businesses are the same. A walk down a street near a station area in Japan will reveal numerous restaurants and bars with crowded counters and tables. Tokyo governor Koike mentioned the other day that the compliance of businesses with the early closing time requests was reported to her as being about 20%. That is simply not going to succeed in stopping the pandemic.

The PM is talking about a carrot and stick approach, with rewards for “cooperation” and fines for non-cooperation. Unless the fines are made very large, however, bars and restaurants will just consider them to be necessary business expenses and keep on, business as usual.

What is needed is special legislation with enforcement powers given to the government and meaningful punishments or other sanctions that can be applied to noncomplying people and businesses. That is not possible with the current legal structure and is going to be painful and embarrassing for the politicians who value money and have donors with financial interests in holding the Olympics, because it’s going to be difficult to continue to insist on holding the Olympics if the authorities are fining people for not behaving as the special legislation that is needed will have to call for them to behave. But it is a bitter pill that must be swallowed.

That said, I don’t for a moment think that the current tribe running things has nearly the courage to take the necessary steps.

Author: William Lise

A long-time resident in japan, I have been chiefly involved with Japanese-to-English translation and litigation interpreting for decades. I was an electrical engineer in my previous life.