Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Not Going to Osaka

I'm not going to Osaka. I mean, I'm not going to lots of places — Kuala Lumpur, BorĂ¥s and Adis Abeba to name a few. 

No, this is more specifically not going to Osaka for Golden Week, like we did last year. We had planned a two-week holiday at home in Osaka. We'd take care of some errands, go walking around town, cook and generally just relax. COVID, and Japans lethargic approach to it, effectively put a stop to that today.


A Shisa lion at Naha airport

Japan has overall managed to keep cases fairly low. This has really mostly been through the willingness of the Japanese public to go along with voluntary restrictions, and a general sense of caution even when the government does something headlessly dumb such as campaigns to promote domestic travel and eating out last autumn. Those campaigns caused the previous surge in cases.

We now have another surge, and this time it's different. Cases in Osaka has risen to over 1000 per day, and Okinawa is not much better off. Tokyo is reporting fewer cases, but they are also testing a lot less. The rise this time has been far more sudden and more dramatic than previous surges, and restrictions doesn't seem to even slow the rise.

One reason is a sense of virus fatigue. Very understandable; I feel it too. But another reason is that apparently 90% of new cases now is by the British strain; a strain that is more contagious, and more dangerous if you catch it. Several areas are now at the limit of what hospitals can take care of and there's no drop in sight so far.

Will vaccines help us? No. Japan doesn't have the vaccines we need. They've so far vaccinated a fraction of the medical workers (around 0.8% of the population), and they're talking about possibly vaccinating the most vulnerable elderly by end of June. That seems unlikely. Why doesn't Japan have vaccines? Good question.

One answer is that Japan didn't seem to have entered any international cooperation agreements and was very slow ordering vaccines from foreign makers. And that, in turn, seems to have been due to some nationalistic desire to have a domestic vaccine. Which is not forthcoming, as domestic makers have been hobbled by a lack of funding the past decade or so, and never stood a chance to create a vaccine in time.

Life goes on. Tourists still visit. And as Ritsuko says, we're lucky to live in a place pleasant enough that people are willing to risk travelling in a pandemic just to come here.

So, it looks like we will spend Golden Week during another emergency declaration, with a more aggressive virus and no relief in sight. And that, frankly is better done on Okinawa than in Osaka. At least we can get outside into quiet areas without people here on the island. In Osaka we'd be stuck at home.