Inadequate testing . . .
Japan, thus far heralded as a success story of COVID-19 containment, is now at high risk of rampant infection, according to its health minister, Katsunobu Kato. The country confirmed 109 new coronavirus cases on Friday, passing the century mark for the first time. Tokyo tallied 40 of the 109, the third day in a row that the capital counted 40 or more positives. The real numbers are likely much higher, as Japan has yet to adopt the kind of widespread testing strategy seen in some other countries in the region. To date, Japan has tested about 25,000 people, less than seven per cent of the number for South Korea, a country with less than half of Japan’s population. In comparison, despite starting later, Canada has tested nearly 120,000.
Crowded stores and empty shelves . . .
Warning that infections may spike and hospitals could become overwhelmed, Tokyo’s governor, Yuriko Koike, called on residents to work from home if possible and stay inside during the weekend. Public events will be postponed or cancelled, and public facilities such as parks and museums will be temporarily closed. Other regional governments such as Osaka, Saitama, and Gifu made similar requests. In a scene now familiar with people in much of the world, the announcements came with a round of panic buying in stores and supermarkets, emptying entire shelves and prompting Japan’s Chain Stores Association to caution that shortages may occur if panic buying continued. As the level of alarm increases, the Embassy of Canada to Japan has put out a notice offering support to Canadians weary of the “very stressful situation.”
Economy in 'severe' situation . . .
The uptick in the viral spread in Japan came on the footsteps of the official postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Games earlier this week, a decision that could lead to significant economic losses. On Thursday, citing supply chain disruptions and worrying trends in private consumption and employment, the government downgraded its economic assessment from “recovering” to “severe.” The next day saw Japan cancelling visas for 11 additional countries, bringing the total to 51. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has so far resisted the idea of putting Tokyo in lockdown, warning that the Japanese economy would be more hard-hit. A state of emergency is also yet to be declared. Much uncertainty remains as Japan enters the weekend, and what happens next week will be critical.