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Japan Needs a Lockdown. Now.   

Tokyo, Japan— As I self-isolate at home and watch the news on the novel coronavirus, I am frustrated with the number of people who leave home and are in public areas as though the virus has left Japan. Although many people wear facemasks in public, masks alone will not prevent the virus from spreading. The Japanese government and the people are not doing enough.

Japan needs a lockdown.

We need to stay home. Although much of the world is already in lockdown, Japan has yet to impose one and declare a state of emergency. Such complacency risks Japan into a second—and rapid—wave of the novel coronavirus.

Despite the fact that the Japanese government had ordered all schools to close during the coronavirus, it has not yet mandated a nationwide lockdown; neither have prefectural governments. On March 27, 2020, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike requested the public to stay home for “unnecessary and non-urgent” matters; Chiba Governor Kensaku Morita, Kanagawa Governor Yuji Kuroiwa and Saitama Governor Motohiro Ono—Tokyo’s neighboring prefectures—also urged people to stay home and stop traveling to and from Tokyo. However, they stopped short of imposing lockdowns. Many restaurants, bars and convenience stores continue to operate. (Not so convenient now.)

A lockdown is easier said than done. But the number of cases can soar if the country doesn’t do more to prevent people from going outdoors in a timely way. As of March 28, 2,329 coronavirus cases, including those on the Diamond Princess, have been confirmed, according to the Nippon Hosoi Kyokai (NHK), Japan’s state broadcaster. Chiba prefecture confirmed its first death from the coronavirus the same day. In Asahikawa, Hokkaido, a man in his 70’s who had tested positive for the coronavirus last month and recovered tested positive again on March 27. Ken Shimura, a Japanese comedian, died at the age of 70 on March 29 due to pneumonia that he had developed from the coronavirus, reported the Japan Times.

Without a lockdown, the coronavirus will continue to spread and ultimately lead to a medical collapse. Hospitals are becoming ground-zeroes for “clusters.” Eiju General Hospital recently reported 68 cases, a spike in coronavirus outbreaks in a hospital. The National Cancer Center Hospital also reported cases of the coronavirus among nurses.

Japan needs further enforcement. Leaving national health and safety to the public’s discretion is irresponsible and unreliable. Relying solely on collective moral consciousness—simply asking people to stay home—amid this uncertainty can hinder prevention and lead to catastrophic results. The goal is to flatten the curve.

So, the government should not only mandate lockdowns, but it should also provide financial packages to help people survive the economic shutdown, prioritizing people in the country’s lowest income strata. There are people who can and can’t afford to stay home financially; a slow response to this virus can put families that live paycheck to paycheck into (further) poverty. A lockdown needs to be effective—and supporting people financially is one way.

The coronavirus affects the international community in Japan, too. The government should provide support by updating its information page and giving them advice on navigating the pandemic. Elsa Lindström, an exchange student from Finland, decided to return to her country before the end of her program in Japan. “The final thing that tipped the scales for me was that my closest friends here also left, and I knew it would be detrimental to my mental health if I would be here alone without anything to do,” she said. She added that she was “frustrated with the Japanese government as it seemed to be that they weren’t treating this crisis seriously enough, being so fixated on the Olympic games.”

On Friday, the Japanese Upper House passed the biggest-ever budget for the fiscal year to start in April, the Japan Times reports. Effective and efficient measures to respond to the coronavirus are necessary. The stimulus packages can help us navigate the uncertainties and alleviate anxieties that follow the coronavirus. In addition to such packages, Japan should reduce taxes to at least 8% or cut taxes temporarily. (In October 2019, the Japanese government raised the consumption tax from 8% to 10% on most products.) But especially during this pandemic, people are struggling to pay necessities. The Japanese government should provide financial packages and/or cut taxes. Hello, Finance Ministry?

Japan needs a lockdown. We must respond to the novel coronavirus with vigilance and in solidarity; it’s our collective responsibility to treat the coronavirus as it is: a global pandemic.

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