Japan’s coronavirus fatigue fuels mistrust in Tokyo, even as number of cases rises

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“Yes, we should listen to the government,” Sato said. “But we all have our own situations, we can’t always swallow what the government says. We cannot survive without working, we cannot stop going out completely. ”

This growing sense of dissatisfaction with the government’s response to the virus comes as Japan appears to be on the brink of another major Covid-19 outbreak. In the past 12 days, the health ministry has recorded more than 900 daily infections and Friday marked a new daily record of 1,601 new cases nationwide.

To date, the country has confirmed more than 46,000 cases since the start of the pandemic, more than half of which have been identified since July. At least 1,062 people have died.

Many of these cases are in Tokyo, the world’s most populous city, where fears persist that an untraceable epidemic could quickly spiral out of control. During most of May and June, Tokyo managed to contain the number of new cases to less than 100 per day. But cases have steadily increased since then, peaking in one day of 472 new infections on August 1. To date, more than 15,000 cases of Covid-19 have been identified in the Japanese capital.

No new state of emergency

Tokyo authorities are convinced that many of the city’s infections occur when people go out at night, so they have asked restaurants and bars that serve alcohol to close at 10 p.m. to reduce the risk of contracting the virus. inside.

The government has also made a substantial financial commitment to tackle the impact of the virus on people’s livelihoods, injecting more than $ 2 trillion into the economy to help prevent a collapse.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Thursday that he would not call for a state of emergency despite more infections being identified now than during the first state of emergency in April, which lasted. for almost seven weeks.

“The situation is very different from that time,” he said. “We are not in a situation where a state of emergency must be declared immediately, but we will keep a close eye on it with a strong sense of alert. ”

But critics like Soma IIzuka, a 21-year-old college student, accuse Abe of stepping away from leadership at a time when it is most needed.

“He shouldn’t be thinking just about moving the economy forward,” Ilzuka said. “If (Abe) wants to keep the infection low and get the economy going, there is a need to provide compensation (for people stuck at home). ”

People like Sato and Ilzuka say leaders must either do more to focus on people’s livelihoods and personal happiness – or abandon half-measures and fully engage in a lockdown.

Many also claim the government is incredibly out of touch, highlighting a plan to spend $ 16 billion in travel subsidies to revive the tourism industry – at a time when cities across the country are grappling with a growing number of infections. .

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wearing a face mask amid concerns over the spread of the coronavirus speaks during a budget committee session at the lower house of parliament in Tokyo on June 10, 2020.

Business leaders under pressure

Hospitality players now face a difficult choice: reject the government’s request for a 10 p.m. shutdown to stay alive – a potential health risk to guests and staff – or follow official advice and eat. lost sales, even if it turns out to be fatal. to the company.

Tokuharu Hirayama has kept his restaurant open throughout the pandemic. But the losses were devastating. Sales fell 95% in April from March, and while things rebounded slightly, activity fell again in July. Hiryama has been forced to fire most of his employees and on some days he works alone in the store, making side deliveries to help cover costs.

Hirayama will comply with the 10 p.m. request, he said, largely due to peer pressure: neighboring restaurants and bars are doing so.

“People around here are very sensitive to what others around them think,” he said. “I didn’t think it would be worth fighting for. ”

Kozo Hasegawa, however, can’t stand it.

Hasegawa is the founder and CEO of Global-Dining, which owns approximately 40 restaurants and stores in Japan. He is known in the industry as a risk-taking restaurateur and is widely admired for giving his employees a lot of freedom and autonomy – and then encouraging them to become independent once they have gained experience in his business. business.

When your house is a Japanese internet cafe, but the coronavirus pandemic is forcing you out

Hasegawa said the pandemic was a “disaster” for her business, which only survived because it was in good enough shape to receive a government loan to stay afloat.

Like many other business owners, Hasegawa said he has applied for several loan programs offered by state-affiliated and private financial institutions as part of the government’s economic aid program.

He doesn’t think the new government regulations of 10 p.m. shutdown are fair. The virus is no longer contagious from 10 p.m. to midnight, when the bar would have closed, Hasegawa said, so why not let customers decide?

“Fortunately or unfortunately, I was born a rebel,” he said. “I don’t like it in Japanese culture, they expect you to obey… we have brains to think (on our own),” said Hasegawa, who plans to keep his restaurant open until. midnight.

Living with the virus

Hasegawa’s comments on obedience refer to a Japanese cultural norm known as jishuku, which translates into restraint. The belief is that ostentatious behavior is in bad taste during a time of national crisis, and it is a mantra that has been used repeatedly after the 2011 earthquake and the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

While Japanese culture may have a reputation for following the rules to the point of being inflexible, it’s important not to paint the whole of society with such a broad brush, according to Kyle Cleveland, director of the Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies from Temple University, Tokyo. .

“We should be careful about over-generalizing this, and sort of defining culture in an orientalist way in which we think there is something really qualitatively different about Japan compared to other Asian countries.” , did he declare.

“If you look at countries like Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, Thailand, they also have relatively low case rates, just like Japan. The common characteristic of these different companies is that they follow the rules. Rules govern corporations. ”

Cleveland does not believe that this apparent challenge and anger against the government proves that jishuku is suddenly losing its place in Japanese culture. On the contrary, he says that people may simply evolve to live with the virus and be more willing to accept the risks it poses.

“It’s not like jishuku existed a month ago, now it isn’t,” he said. “(People) still practice social distancing and wear masks and things like that, but they realize that they have to have a balance between financial obligations and also just quality of life and so they start to go out in. the society. ”

CNN’s Joshua Berlinger contributed to this report.

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