TOKYO – It has taken just 10 days this month for Japan’s Covid-19 death toll to surpass that of the whole month of July, as the spread of the virus continues unabated both within and outside of metropolitan areas.
The resurgence of the virus in Japan, once praised for its success in containing the pandemic without punitive rules like elsewhere, is a cautionary tale of what might happen when restrictions are eased too fast, too soon, without a clear plan of what to do if infections soar.
There are already 80 deaths this month, more than twice the 39 recorded in July.
The case load continues to soar, with 1,232 on Saturday (Aug 15), including 385 in Tokyo, 136 in neighbouring Kanagawa in a new daily high, and 151 in Osaka.
Tokyo, which has been logging a triple-digit increase every day since July 9, now has 17,454 cases. Of Tokyo’s cases on Saturday, 65 per cent had no known routes of transmission. Japan’s total tally as of last night stood at 55,193, with 1,093 deaths.
The daily infection tally, now routinely above that during a state of emergency from April 7 to May 25, has been attributed by national leaders to more aggressive contact tracing.
They insist that another emergency declaration is unnecessary, given that a majority of the cases now are people in their 20s and 30s, who are less susceptible to developing severe symptoms and so are putting a lesser burden on hospitals.
But this belies the rising numbers among the middle-aged and senior citizens, many of whom live or work with infected youth.
Cases in rural regions from Iwate to Shimane have also been traced to metropolises like Tokyo and Osaka.
Still, unlike in South Korea, where a five-month high of 166 cases on Saturday prompted strict social distancing measures, no such guidelines are as yet imminent in Japan.
Even amid public disquiet, the national government has been reluctant to impose tighter measures that could threaten its benign economic recovery.
Nor is it willing to back down from the multi-billion dollar Go To domestic travel campaign that even its own panel of medical experts had said was a bad idea.
As a result, the messages by national leaders often stand in stark dissonance to what local prefecture leaders say, with Okinawa and Aichi having declared their own states of emergency.
The national government has said that domestic travel can and should continue, with appropriate safeguards.
But local leaders like Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike urged against this to prevent the spread of the virus.
“This year’s summer is a special one that is different from past summers,” she said. “I hope Tokyo residents will continue to refrain from travelling, returning to their family homes in other areas, going out for dinners and making distant outings.”
Her message has reportedly upended plans by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to return to his home town of Yamaguchi to pay respects at his ancestral graves.
Public confidence in Mr Abe’s administration has tanked with his reluctance to front his government’s Covid-19 response nor call press conferences to address the public feeding into suspicions that he is running out of ideas.
A poll by public broadcaster NHK last week showed support at 34 per cent, the lowest since he took office in December 2012.
A story in the Jiji New Agency yesterday headlined “Abe administration has no effective way to regain public support” cited exasperation by Mr Abe’s close aides that it is “being blamed for everything”.
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