JAPANESE POWER OF SOLIDARITY KEY TO OVERCOMING CORONAVIRUS
Infection by the deadly new coronavirus is spreading in Japan. As of this writing, on February 14, eight more cases have been confirmed in Tokyo and five prefectures—Kanagawa, Okinawa, Wakayama, Hokkaido, and Aichi.
The existing confusion over the precise routes of infection is most concerning. For instance, two of the infected Tokyoites had separately come in close contact with a taxi driver who was found to have been infected the day before. On January 18, he attended a New Year’s party hosted by his company for its employees and their families aboard a house boat. Also onboard were the boat’s servers, who had waited on a group of some 80 Chinese tourists from Wuhan on January 15.
The Kanagawa individual is a fireman who transported infected passengers from the cruise ship Diamond Princess. The case in Okinawa involved a female taxi driver who drove Diamond Princess passengers around scenic spots on the main island.
Meanwhile, it is not clear how the patient in Hokkaido contracted the virus. Also, the only thing the authorities have ascertained about the patient in Aichi is that he had been in Hawaii until February 7.
If these two have contracted the Wuhan virus without having been to China or having had any apparent contact with Chinese, then we have at least a “third-degree” infection, i.e., the new coronavirus epidemic has already started spreading in Japan itself. We have entered a new stage of the outbreak. The important thing for all of us to bear in mind under such circumstances is to strive to work out measures designed to contain the virus without panicking. Needless to say, bringing an invisible enemy under control is not easy. Given the nature of the virus and the resourcefulness of our people, however, I believe controlling it will be doable.
Let’s first review the nature of the new coronavirus for a moment. What is known about it so far is that its infectious capacity is different from that of the influenza virus: it can cause human to human infection in the pre-symptomatic stage, and its fatality rate is seen to be between 0.6% to 1%. This is lower than the 10% fatality rate for SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and higher than the 0.1% for the flu.
Power of Traditional Japanese Spirit of Mutual Aid Will Help
“You may consider the new coronavirus as similar to a malignant flu,” commented Professor Hideki Hashimoto of the Faculty of Medicine of Tokyo University.
If so, we must deal with the virus with proper caution, while at the same time not overstating the danger. A present, only symptomatic treatment is available, as it will take time to develop an effective new drug. But experts say those who normally enjoy good health and have average stamina can overcome the virus by keeping to certain basic rules.
The experts strongly encourage meticulous hand-washing and gargling when coming home. It boils down to maintaining enough stamina to fight the virus, making sure to not spread yourself too thin, getting enough sleep and having good nutrition. What is required beyond readily available medical service is proper action and attitude on the part of the public. In that vein, I believe we Japanese can manage to contain the virus.
Let us recall what happened when a new type of influenza spread across Japan in 2009-2010, claiming 203 lives. The virus was highly contagious, with a particularly high fatality rate among the elderly. I clearly remember how I did everything I could to protect my mother from the epidemic. She was nearly 100 years old then and was living with me in Tokyo.
The government initially put an emphasis on its efforts to check the virus at the water’s edge, in the same way as it has dealt with the Wuhan virus. Despite this, a group of Japanese who had not traveled overseas were found to be infected. At that point, the government switched its operation, like this time, to one aimed at preventing serious cases by treating them at specialty hospitals. Patients with mild symptoms were given thorough guidance about the virus by health officials, who urged them to be treated at local hospitals or clinics, or recuperate at home, in a drive to leave serious cases to the care of specialists.
I instantly made up my mind to help change my mother’s pattern of life. I arranged for her to keep indoors instead of going out three to four times a week. I also asked every visitor who came to our house to wash their hands and gargle without fail.
Heeding Professor Hashimoto’s warning against becoming “the sources of infection,” I tried my best to protect myself from the virus while caring about those around me who were advanced in age or in poor health.
It is important, especially at this juncture, to think collectively in terms of our own health along with that of others and, furthermore, of society as a whole. That awareness is directly linked to our solidarity and spirit of mutual aid.
When the gigantic earthquake and tsunami hit the Pacific coastal regions of northern Japan on March 11, 2011, all Japanese—especially those in the devastated areas of the Tohoku (northeastern) prefectures—helped each other. While protecting ourselves, every one of us joined in helping others who were weaker or more aged. Together we did our very best. Given such Japanese resourcefulness, I have no doubt that we Japanese will manage to put the new coronavirus under control over time.
When senior citizens contract the new coronavirus, they are said to have a 20% to 30% chance of being dangerously affected—especially those who suffer underlying conditions such as diabetes.
For patients who do contract the new virus, there is a need to manage all bodily functions, including the use of a respirator. If there were to be a sudden and large increase in the number of such patients, even a big hospital would not be able to accommodate the need, as securing enough rooms with facilities to provide high-quality treatment would be impossible. will be a need to manage the entire bodily functions such as by turning to a respirator. The new virus is highly contagious and is difficult to control when it spreads, which makes it all the more important to neutralize its explosive outbreak.
“Feeling Truly Sorry for Chinese Citizens”
What should we do now to cope with the virus? As pointed out earlier, personally managing our own health must be the number one priority for each of us. However, if you do suspect you’ve been infected, you should turn to neighborhood doctors or hospitals rather than being a path to local public health care centers or the Ministry of Health. This is where government leadership is called for. The government must provide the people ample information on the virus and create a system linking local medical facilities systematically so that anyone who contracts the virus may receive high-quality medical care anywhere across Japan. No panic will occur if the government succeeds in creating public confidence and a sense of trust in its resolve to speedily implement this system.
In cases where the symptoms are mild, the virus can be treated at local hospitals or at home, like ordinary flu patients. That this can be accomplished, I believe, will be a reflection of the strengths of our civilization and culture.
Although unable to get a precise picture of what really is happening in Wuhan now, I genuinely feel for the residents of the locked-down city. Reportedly, workers are being vigorously recruited for a night-to-morning “part-time” job in Wuhan—an all-night operation carrying the bodies of those who succumbed to the new virus. Crematories allegedly are going at full blast round the clock, but there are far more bodies than they can handle.
In countries with poor public health infrastructure, the underprivileged fall victim first. And yet the tragic situation in China has not been fully explained to the world. It is because the Chinese leadership prioritizes hiding information over disclosing it in order to protect Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). But the truth about the new coronavirus cannot possibly remain hidden for too long, no matter how hard Beijing may try. Already Xi himself and the CCP are decisively losing the trust not only of the Chinese people but the international community.
As the new virus continues to spread in Japan, let us create a system with the people generously helping each other at its core to combat the epidemic hand in hand. We will overcome the crisis, as we have the power of the people, the democratic principles of our government, and a national character innately committed to mutual aid.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no 890 in the February 27, 2020 issue of The Weekly Shincho)