Worries of a ‘Second Wave’ in Japan as Infections Spike

Infections rise in Tokyo . . .

After stabilizing the spread of COVID-19 for close to two months, hints of a second wave emerged in Japan. On July 11, nationwide new cases exceeded 400 for the first time since April 25. From July 9 to 12, Tokyo logged over 200 daily new cases for four straight days, although on Monday, the figure dropped to 119. Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike attributed part of the spike in her prefecture to increased testing compared to other prefectures, arguing that Tokyo’s situation isn’t particularly worrisome. She has, however, criticized the central government for relaxing guidelines on large gatherings too soon, comparing it to “putting cooling and heating systems on at the same time.”

Second spike coincides with flooding in southern, central Japan . . .

The COVID-19 pandemic has compounded other problems in Japan, including natural disasters. Every summer, Japan experiences a prolonged period of rain, which often leads to widespread flooding and mudslides that necessitate rescue and evacuation. This year’s rainy season hit southern and central Japan especially hard, with 106 rivers overflowing and 316 mudslides across 27 prefectures. In addition to lives lost and property destroyed, the disaster adds another burden on an already slowing economy. And with people congregating in evacuation centres and aid workers dispatched across the country, there are fears that new outbreaks could emerge as a result.

Hitting the breaks on economic recovery?

Having relaxed guidelines for large gatherings last Friday, Japan’s central government is set to begin a subsidy program to boost domestic tourism on July 22. Internationally, it is also talking to countries such as Australia, China, and South Korea about easing border restrictions to facilitate business travel. But a ‘second wave’ of COVID-19 could force the government to ask high-risk regions such as the Tokyo metropolitan area to scale back on economic reopening. Under a state of emergency, prefectural governors can ask, and have asked, businesses to suspend operations at their discretion. Domestic tourism could also be curbed, with prefectures with fewer infections increasingly uneasy about the situation in Tokyo.