The coronavirus is causing quite a stir here in Japan. Because of the rapid spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe asked schools to close in March to prevent the spread of the disease. Following the request of Prime Minister Abe, schools will cancel all classes and extracurricular activities for the two weeks, preceding March break, which comes before the new school year. Some people I know are panicking but is it too much?
According to this map from the Japan Times (the English version of the Yomiuri Shinbun), the most affected prefectures are Hokkaido, Aichi and Tokyo. Some prefectures have only a few cases. Do the Japanese have reason to panic?
At the high school where I work, students in the first and second year of high school were asked not to attend the graduation ceremony of third-year high school students. This measure was taken to avoid spreading the coronavirus. Third-year high school students, weeks before graduation, traveled to other prefectures to take entrance exams at the universities they would like to attend and have interviews there. Some of these prefectures are prefectures in which the coronavirus is widespread.
The day following the graduation ceremony, the end-of-year school concert and farewell dinner for retiring and transferred teachers was canceled. Extracurricular activities were also cancelled. Even dojos around town are closing!
An instructor I know kept saying, “The coronavirus is scary”.
I told a co-worker I was frustrated with the news because the latest and most relevant news about the coronavirus in Japan was in Japanese, which I don’t master. She answered, “I’m Japanese, I read Japanese but I don’t know what news source to trust”.
According to Montreal French-language newspaper La Presse, many people recover from the virus and the symptoms are similar to those of a flu.
“Is the media exaggerating to scare people or is the COVID-19 coronavirus that dangerous?”, I wonder. I have to admit that this virus doesn’t seem all that scary because I live in a prefecture in which few cases has been reported so far. Then again, March break is soon, so I can expect people to travel. Does this make Prime Minister Abe’s decision to close schools ineffective? The Japanese Prime minister currently does not have the right to declare a state of emergency for diseases. Japan’s parliament is currently trying to revise laws to be allowed to do so.
According to the National Geographic, various countries do not want to call the spread of the coronavirus a pandemic to avoid hysteria. Apparently, panic is will only make things worse. More news stories about countries running out of tissue boxes, toilet paper and masks will be published. Even more articles claiming these articles are false will flood the Internet (I went to Seiyu/Wal-Mart in Japan and there wasn’t any toilet paper left for sale).
Which is more dangerous? The coronavirus or mass hysteria?
In the meantime, I’ll just wear a mask in crowded train stations and wash my hands frequently.