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.

Japan’s Covid Paralysis

Yesterday we had 539 new Covid-19 cases in Tokyo, a new high for Tokyo (the second in three days), and a new high nationwide. Japan appears to be doing much better than many other advanced nations, and certainly is not seeing the chaos that is happening in the US.

I think Japan’s success is due in a large part not to the government leadership, but rather to cultural factors. In addition to most Japanese not having aversion to mask-wearing, most Japanese have a sense of community and commonality of purpose with other Japanese. There is nothing of the us-and-them attitude that is so prevalent in the US. In reality, there are few of “them” to other. Japan is a highly other-challenged country.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the politicians sent effective messages to indicate how serious this was and how important it is for people to follow guidelines of behavior. After the first month or so, however, things have gone awry. The messaging has been more along the lines of “as long as you follow guidelines, you can do whatever you want wherever you want to do it.” That, I believe, has resulted in the recent record high levels of infections here in Japan. The government is essentially saying that it’s ok to do anything, as long as you are careful. They even instituted partial subsidies for domestic tourism, a business that has been seriously hit by the pandemic. What this does is replace tourists from overseas (mostly China) with Japanese tourists. The dangers remain, but are suffered by the locals.

And with all this going on, Japan is still planning on holding the once-delayed Olympics. I think they are seriously hallucinating or in serious denial. Although Japan is doing fairly well (still), many thousands of athletes and support personnel (not to mention spectators) coming to Japan from countries not doing well is certainly not a smart thing to do. Japan needs to cut bait; there are no Olympic fish available this time. I realize that huge amounts of money, including bribes, have been paid to make the Olympics happen, but shit also happens, and it has happened in a major way. It is time to get out of the way of the shit on its way to the fan.

Japan has essentially been paralyzed, unable to make embarrassing decisions to correct wrong decisions. I hope this condition can be fixed before it causes any more damage.