Saturday, April 4, 2020

More Corona

It's been a month and more, and here on Okinawa we're still doing well. Japan was one of the earliest countries to get infected, but until recently they've managed to curtail the spread. We've mostly had isolated clusters of outbreaks around the country, but no real uncontrolled spreading. The reason has been a lot of voluntary closures of events, people taking "social distancing" measures, and testing of people around confirmed patients.

People are still pretty chill about this on Okinawa. Nobody is panic-buying toilet-paper for instance, so there's plenty to go around for everybody. More and more residents are using masks now - it used to be only tourists - but most seem to wear it just to make other people feel safer.

Here on Okinawa we had three cases right at the start, all connected to a visiting cruise ship. We didn't have a single case for over a month after that. Two weeks ago we started getting new cases; it gradually rose to 12, with all but two infected abroad or on the mainland. There has been little spread on the island, but just today another six cases appeared, three with unknown source. So now we have it spreading on the main island as well.

The local economy is fairly dependent on tourism and the loss of travellers has hit that sector very hard. Many hotels have special deals for Okinawa residents, so a couple of weeks ago we spent a weekend in Yomitan near Cape Maeda. We supported local business and got a relaxing weekend getaway.

Japan in general has been lucky so far — Japan at large has been doing something right, or our hospitals would be overrun with patients by now. But now the infection rate is increasing rapidly in Tokyo and Osaka. The political response has been anemic; there's a sense that the government has been slow to react, and more interested in protecting its own image and the economy than trying to keep on top of the disease.

The weather was sunny and warm. We took a walk along the beach, and the sea was warm enough to swim in already. Here a washed-up coconut on the beach that's become shelter for a group of hermit crabs.

They announced yesterday that every household will be given two cloth face masks. This sounds ridiculous on its face (sorry); cloth masks don't really help much at all, and the whole thing sounds like an pointless empty gesture. However, more than a few people think this is the precursor to declaring a state of emergency with self-quarantines, and the cloth masks would be a key element of that.

A Common Rose Swallowtail butterfly.

The Japanese central government doesn't have much constitutional power (they have bad historical experience with powerful governments) so, for instance, they simply can't force people to stay at home or businesses to close. Even a state of emergency enacts only limited powers, and mostly to the prefectures, not to the central government.

But they could require people to wear a mask when entering public areas. As every household has two of them, nobody would have an excuse not to wear one. And as a household only has two, that would directly limit the number of people that could be out and about at any one time. Even though you could substitute another mask, it would establish a general pattern of not going out unless you have a valid, specific reason to do so. Don't underestimate the psychological effect.

If they combine it with semi-voluntary closures of non-essential businesses, this will effectively create a similar lock-down state as we see in other countries without having the legal resources to enforce it directly.

Fishing harbour in Maeda. This sure beats winter in Osaka.

Okinawa still has only a few cases, so I would not be surprised if the local government greatly restricts travel to the islands if or when the state of emergency is declared. As all cases so far have been around Naha and one of the US bases, I would also not be surprised if travel between the islands is suspended or curtailed as well.

My workplace OIST is still operating, but with heavy restrictions. People are increasingly working from home, or are preparing to do so. If you have any cold symptoms at all you need to stay home for 14 days. Most in-person meetings and teaching has been suspended, no visitors are allowed on campus, and we are discouraged from gathering in groups. We are not allowed to travel for any but the most dire reason, and if you do you must self-quarantine for two weeks.

And as of this week, if we meet with anybody travelling from the mainland we need to self-quarantine at home for two weeks. This impacts me directly, as Ritsuko has been in Osaka for the past week or so (for good reasons) and will return tomorrow. I will need to work from home for the next two weeks.

Going outside and getting exercise is usually allowed, and always a good idea. Do it alone and stay outside, and you'll be safe. This is from my usual lunchtime run around OIST.

We have been preparing for this of course; I can do all my current work online, and some colleagues already work from home part time. Working from home for a few weeks won't impact my job directly. Hopefully OIST will still be open in two weeks time.

"There's a swallows nest; please watch your head". Life goes on.


  1. Interesting, it's the first time I see some reasonable explanation of the "two face masks" thing. Ah, Japan, so weird in your own way.

    Here in Switzerland, on Monday we're going to start the fourth week of working from home, and it slowly becomes "normal".

    Take care!

  2. Love reading the daily routines from people around the world during the pandemic. Thanks for sharing :)


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