Update March 24th
The IOC and the Japanese government have come to an agreement to postpone the Olympic Games.
In Kagawa, small companies have received official communication from their federation to start working from home for those who can. This communication, while not “secret” is not exactly public either. It is very official, though.
A clear sign that, as feared, and contrarily to what many believe, the epidemic is about to get much worse in Japan, and lockdown may happen here sooner or later.
Personally, I find the timing of both things to probably confirm what I thought. Now that the Olympic Games are out of the way, the government will hopefully start taking the epidemic seriously.
I don’t know if I’m the right person to talk to you about this topic, but a few people asked me what’s going on here, in the Kagawa Prefecture and on the Setouchi Islands, regarding the coronavirus Covid-19 epidemic. So I thought that maybe I could use this post to try giving updates.
I try to avoid talking about politics on this blog, and I don’t know how easy it’s going to be with this topic, as I feel that both the epidemic and politics are strongly linked here.
More important disclaimer
I don’t work in healthcare, and while I have a basic understanding of how viruses work, I’m nowhere near being a specialist. This post has for goal to tell you what’s going on in the area, sprinkled with a few personal thoughts and experiences.
A few preliminary thoughts
As you may have heard, the coronavirus epidemic is supposedly mostly contained in Japan, with “only” around 1,000 confirmed cases total (780 currently active) and “only” 35 deaths (source: Japan Times 03/20/20 and covid19japan.com). However, for a lot of people, these numbers don’t add up compared to the rest of the world.
It’s true that Japan has a culture where people don’t touch each other much, where things are supposedly cleaner, and where people are more health-conscious and more germaphobes, etc. While, those things are sometimes up for debate, and while there are a lot of exceptions, I feel that it’s generally tru(ish). So those things may help slowing down the spread of the virus.
It’s also true that Japan has the most acute care hospital beds per inhabitant in the OECD and probably in the world – 7.8 beds per 1,000 inhabitants (as opposed to 2.4 for the US, 3.1 for my country France, and 2.6 for Italy where the crisis seems to be the most critical at the moment) – source OECD.
This and a few more things may help Japan to not be hit as hard as some other countries, but the truth is that if the number of infected people is pretty low, it’s also mostly because the number of tested people is very low – too low compared to what the WHO advises and to what most other countries are doing. Only around 19,000 people have been tested so far.
Why is that? Several reasons, I’m not totally sure which ones, but there is a general growing feeling in the country that the government is doing all it can to minimize the crisis in order to try to salvage the Olympic Games.
Why is it so important? Well, most people of power in Japan (be it political, economical or else) are of the generation who saw their country becoming finally prominent on the world stage in 1964, during the last Tokyo Olympics. And they think that the 2020 Olympics will have a similar impact on the country, and they’ve been putting all their eggs in that basket for a few years already.
It may be surprising to you if you don’t live in Japan, as the Olympics nowadays don’t really have the same global impact as it used to have in the postwar era, but Japanese leaders are not always the people who are the most aware of what’s going on outside of their bubble.
So, first, they hoped that the Olympics would magically solve all of Japan’s woes, but with the coronavirus pandemic, they simply can’t fathom canceling them. It’s true that cancelation of the event could have a dangerous impact on the country’s economy, but burying their head in the sand is just not the right way to deal with the situation (but unfortunately it is more or less the Japanese way sometimes).
In my opinion, the ship of the Olympic Games has sailed, and the earlier they postpone them, the less difficult it will be to manage. Minimizing the epidemic would make sense (in a sick and twisted way) if it only affected Japan and a handful of other countries. However, as we have reached pandemic levels – with a drastic impact on many countries at a scale we’ve never seen in our lifetime – even if they’re still held this Summer as both the Japanese government and the IOC still insist on doing, how many athletes are going to come? and how many visitors? (as the latter are the ones who will have an economic impact)
This is the ridiculous situation where we’re now in Japan.
So, maybe it’s true that Japan, somehow, is managing to mitigate the crisis, but it will hit sooner or later. In three weeks school is going to start again, people will start their new jobs for those who are getting new ones, or at new locations. Not even mentioning Hanami, some events are canceled, but with the false sense of security that Japanese people seem to be having at the moment, I can’t imagine people avoiding celebrating cherry blossoms in a few days.
In other words, I feel like the country is a giant ticking time bomb at the moment, and I’m sitting on it with no way to make it stop.
But enough of my thoughts and back to some facts:
What is the situation in Kagawa Prefecture?
Officially, Kagawa Prefecture only has one single confirmed case. A man in his 50s from Marugame who may have gotten infected on a trip to Osaka.
So, as insane as it may seem from the outside world (but from here too), life goes on pretty much as normal at the moment.
Schools have been closed for a few weeks, but not preschools, nor universities. However, it’s currently spring vacation for university students, and campuses have been mostly empty. I’ve been practicing social isolation, but not any different from any other March really (spending days in my office with minimal contact with other people during the day).
I have minimized my social activities, but I still go to restaurants, go shopping and hang out with friends. Just less than usual, and less and less as time goes.
A lot of events have been canceled, but quite a few haven’t.
While most people wore masks a couple of weeks ago, I’ve seen fewer this week. I want to believe that it’s because Japanese people have realized that masks are mostly useless to protect yourself from the virus, as it’s not airborne, as many doctors are telling, trying to avoid shortage of masks in hospitals and for people who actually need them, but the truth may be that a false sense of security is back in a lot of people’s minds.
A good thing: alcohol is available at the entrance of most public buildings (not the kind you drink, the hand sanitizer kind). However, I also stumbled upon a couple of useless alcohol-free kinds too.
On a personal positive note, now my kids usually say yes when I ask them to wash their hands, so there is that.
Basically we’re in a strange “twilight zone” where there is a feeling that things are not exactly normal, but they’re not very different either.
Once again, personally, I’m dreading April where things have the potential to really go bad.
What is the situation on the Setouchi islands?
Officially the virus hasn’t reached any of the small islands.
The islands seem relatively protected as they receive much fewer visitors than usual (almost no foreign visitors, mostly local ones, and not really for tourism, although there were a lot of university students the last time I went to Ogijima about a week ago).
However, if the virus arrives on a given island, it could be a dramatic situation, as most of the population on the islands is elderly. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.
Personally, I have decided to minimize my trips to the island for the foreseeable future, just in case, I became an asymptomatic carrier of the coronavirus.
If you’re wondering about the various art sites.
Most Art Setouchi sites were closed for the winter and were due to reopen today, but that will not happen.
At the moment Art Setouchi is closed and no date for reopening has been fixed on most islands.
A few exceptions:
On Naoshima and Inujima, while art sites and museums closed for a few weeks, they’ve just reopened a few days ago. The fact that they’re managed by Benesse Holdings and some are for-profit may have played a part in that decision. Maybe. However, art sites are remaining closed on Teshima for the moment.
That is all for today.
Stay safe and take good care of yourselves.
Support Setouchi Explorer