TOKYO — Japan had only a few dozen confirmed coronavirus infections when the 30-something nurse with a slight sore throat boarded a bus to Osaka, the country’s third-largest city, to attend a Valentine’s weekend performance by pop bands at a music club.
Less than two weeks later, she tested positive for the virus, and the authorities swiftly alerted others who had been at the club. As more infections soon emerged from three other music venues in the city, officials tested concertgoers and their close contacts, and urged others to stay home. All told, 106 cases were linked to the clubs, and nine people are still hospitalized.
But less than a month after the nurse tested positive, the governor of Osaka declared the outbreak over.
Ever since the first coronavirus case was confirmed in Japan in mid-January, health officials have reassured the public that they have moved quickly to prevent the virus from raging out of control. At the same time, though, Japan has puzzled epidemiologists as it has avoided the grim situations in places like Italy and New York without draconian restrictions on movement, economically devastating lockdowns or even widespread testing.
The puzzle may be about to gain some clarity. On Thursday, Katsunobu Kato, Japan’s health minister, said he had informed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that there was evidence that Japan was now at a high risk of rampant infection.
On Wednesday night, just a day after Japan and the International Olympic Committee agreed to delay the Tokyo Summer Games for a year because of the coronavirus pandemic, the governor of Tokyo, Yuriko Koike, warned citizens that the sprawling city of close to 14 million people was in a “critical phase before a possible infection explosion.”
Cases in Tokyo spiked this week, setting records for four days running — including an announcement of 47 cases on Thursday — as travelers returned from overseas. The limited testing for the virus has raised fears that many more are going undetected.
Ms. Koike implored the people of Tokyo to work from home, avoid unnecessary outings and stay inside over the weekend. On Thursday, governors from four neighboring prefectures also requested that residents refrain over the weekend from going outside for anything other than urgent needs.
“If we go without doing anything now,” Ms. Koike said, “the situation will worsen. I ask for everyone’s cooperation.”
The public so far has not taken such warnings seriously. Although schools have been closed for a month and the government has requested that large sports and cultural events be canceled or delayed, the rest of life has returned to normal.
People have been riding crowded subways, congregating in parks to view the cherry blossoms, shopping, drinking and dining, comforted by Japan’s relatively low number of confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths.
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Source and full article:
New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/26/world/asia/japan-coronavirus.html
Ben Dooley and Makiko Inoue contributed reporting from Tokyo, and Hiroko Masuike from Osaka, Japan. Motoko Rich is Tokyo bureau chief for The New York Times.