Hokkaido’s hard lesson . . .
Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido provides the world with a hard lesson for the next phase of COVID-19 containment. The island government promptly declared a state of emergency at the onset of an early outbreak of the virus in late February. It lifted the lockdown on March 19, as cases shrunk to around one or two a day and amid pressure from the region’s businesses to reopen. Just under a month later, Hokkaido experienced a drastic spike in new cases and declared another state of emergency on April 13. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared a nationwide state of emergency three days later. Even though officials have asked that people stay home, the lure of Golden Week – one of the most important Japanese holidays of the year running from April 29 to May 5 – may see a mass movement of people travelling home and visiting tourist spots on Hokkaido and across the nation.
Obstacles to curbing the spread of COVID-19 . . .
Japan, often viewed as a highly technologically-advanced country, has its own challenges in getting people to work from home. A government survey released on April 30 found that only 26.8 per cent of 24 million respondents were working from home. One of the obstacles to increasing that percentage is the ancient custom of requiring seal-stamping and face-to-face interaction in signing documents used in almost every aspect of business and daily life. Another obstacle to decreasing people-to-people contact is the preference for cash and distrust in online banking and services, especially among the elderly.
Canadian provinces set out timelines . . .
Canadian provinces looking to reopen should take a close look at the Hokkaido experience. Quebec, despite having the most confirmed COVID-19 cases (27,538) as well as the highest number of deaths (1,859) in Canada as of May 1, is planning to resume primary school and daycare and gradually reopen its economy this month. Alberta and Manitoba are also looking at lifting their restrictions in May. As seen from Hokkaido’s case, lifting restrictions too early could induce further waves of the coronavirus.