Life in Japan With Covid-19: The New Normal

In his speech last Monday announcing the end of the state of emergency in the last six prefectures still under the declaration, Primer Minister Abe stated that there would still be guidelines for how to reopen safely and smartly. Japan is anticipating a second wave and doesn’t want to take any more risks than necessary, but they also want people to get back to work so they don’t lose their homes or starve. He noted that we would be entering a “new normal,” so let’s take a look at what that might be like here in Japan.

State of Emergency Over

The major things with the state of emergency is that it signals good things: The healthcare system is not stressed anymore, the number of new cases vs total cases for the country is going down, and the rate of new infections is on a steady decline. All of this is good news! While the government was bumbling with its initial response, the word got out and the people rose to the challenge.

Schools are now all reopened and train stations are replete with uniform-clad teens in white surgical masks. Businesses are slowly getting back into the swing of things, opening with reduced hours and markers to show people where to stand and signs to discourage getting too close to other patrons. My city, Kawagoe, was literally abuzz with people resuming normal activities this week, the train station slowly transforming back into the bustling hub it once was, the empty streets now breathing with signs of life once more. Seeing people out and about more, while still following safety procedures, is a great stress-reliever. It reminds me that we can beat this, that we can return to normal and save lives if we are careful.

Commuters in Kyushu (Image courtesy of Mainichi Japan)

There are still health restraints that will be put in place. People will still need to practice social distancing, restaurants and businesses need to open with limited capacity, and most shops will take it upon themselves to impose a mask requirement. When the Mrs. and I went out to see what this new normal looked like, we saw a lot of things. First, hand sanitizer is everywhere! They were not fooling around at our local shopping area and department store. One thing that was disappointing, though, was the lack of social distancing. Yes, Japan is cramped and crowded. There were signs advising about how far away to stand on escalators and how to queue up for the cashier but not many were really heeding that advice. And in the aisles themselves? People would get right up to you and camp out in your personal bubble. We would try to step away to give distance but then the person would just close the gap. It was frustrating, to say the least. It’s like people forget that we shouldn’t but all up in each other’s business even though the state of emergency was lifted. It’s not a perfect relaunch of semi-normality, but hopefully more clusters won’t break out.

…Perhaps I spoke too soon: Another cluster is popping up in Kitakyushu on the southern island. Hopefully this isn’t indicative of another trend.

What Should We Learn From Japan’s Example?

The one thing to take away from Japan is this: Voluntary compliance works. People took it upon themselves to stay at home and only go out for essentials. Nearly everyone wore masks. Hand sanitizer use and regular hand washing were common. Had it not been for the hard work and dedication of the people living in Japan, this disease would have been a nightmare for so many more people. The main take-away shouldn’t be their testing strategies or their rates of immunization; it should be that people listened to experts and followed their advice. They didn’t spin whacky conspiracy theories or protest en masse or refuse to wear masks. They followed the recommendations of people who have dedicated their lives to studying and understanding how diseases work and spread. I only hope this lesson spreads to other places around the world to prevent further tragedy.

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