It is a part of the Japanese culture to wear masks and maintain “utmost” cleanliness during the routine life, so COVID-19 pandemic did not change much in the country.
“The only issue is there is no aggressive testing of people to determine whether a person is infected or not,” a software engineer who identified himself with the name Ahmad and based in Tokyo told Anadolu Agency.
In their daily lives, the Japanese use hand sanitizers, wear masks, and maintain cleanliness, he said.
Japan reported nearly 13,231 cases of the coronavirus with 360 deaths. Despite an aging population, questions have been raised as to why authorities were not holding mass COVID-19 tests.
Ahmad said the government declared a health emergency but people had “already taken precautions and stayed home”.
“People felt like the anti-virus measures were already part of their routine and continued their lives but there has been less mobility since the outbreak started,” he added.
Wearing a mask has been mandatory in many countries in fighting the pandemic which has affected nearly 2.9 million people globally, while more than 203,000 have died since the virus first appeared in Wuhan, China last December.
Why no mass testing?
One has to undergo a series of checkups, including blood tests, X-rays, and flu sampling for a doctor to decide if a patient fits the criteria for the COVID-19 test.
“This time-consuming process is done to eliminate the possibility that the patient has a different illness. And even if he determines that the patient is likely to have the coronavirus, the biggest hurdle is calling the local health center to request a test. This is almost always rejected,” Japan’s public broadcaster NHK reported, quoting a specialist from a Tokyo-based hospital.
Japan, the world’s third-biggest economy, has been able to do only 7,800 tests per day, far lower than the US which carries out about 150,000 per day. The limited number of tests has raised concerns about the accuracy of the Japanese government's total case numbers
"The healthcare center won't accept tests, even if it's for a patient who is highly likely to be infected,” the doctor added.
Japan has a population of more than 126 million, with over 30% older than 60 years of age -- one of the most affected age groups from the virus.
“Life in Tokyo is that of seclusion and isolation,” Ahmad also said, adding: “There are elderly homes and in one of them a cluster of coronavirus cases was recently found and there is a fear of more such clusters.”
The low testing pushed the US Embassy in Tokyo to urge Americans to go home immediately. “The lack of widespread testing has made it difficult to assess the situation,” said the embassy.
“One cannot ignore the fact that lifestyle of the Japanese is very hygienic,” said a businessman from Osaka who wanted to remain anonymous, and added: “The Japanese are clean people, in metropolitans, they live a secluded life … people here are only busy with their work.”
Health Ministry official Kato Takuma, however, said the government asked public health centers to conduct tests beginning in February.
"The government has never asked anybody to reduce the number of tests," Kato told NHK. But he also accepted the difficulties these centers are facing.
‘Lockdown to hit Japan’s export-oriented business’
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government faced stiff resistance for imposing a strict lockdown.
The parliament passed an amendment last month to allow Abe to declare a national health emergency to fight COVID-19. The emergency was expanded to all of
Japan after first being imposed in seven provinces, including Tokyo.
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said the Japanese law makes it "impossible" to impose a forced shutdown in Tokyo.
“Japan’s economy is export-oriented,” said the Osaka-based businessman, adding: “Most of the consumers are outside the country. So, the business will dry if demand for exports drops, and lockdown is doing that.”
Abe acknowledged the stress on the economy, saying: “Japan’s economy faces the biggest crisis in the postwar era.”
Ahmad, the software engineer, said he, along with hundreds of IT employees, was working from home for more than a month.
“Shops are open, business centers are open but there is not much activity and the most affected are daily wager,” he said.
“Most Japanese work on a daily-wage basis,” he said, adding: “That is why we see opposition to lockdown.”
Japan has not been dependent on anything foreign, he stressed, noting: “They have produced everything themselves and revolutionized their industry and the economy but [foreign] consumer is a major importer of Japanese products which pushes forward the growth trajectory.”
To support the economy, the Abe government earlier this month unveiled the country’s largest-ever $990 billion stimulus package to help struggling businesses and households cope with the impact of the coronavirus outbreak.
The package is equivalent to 20% of the country’s GDP.
In Osaka, the businessman said: “People go to offices, shops are open but yes temperature testing is applied. Human-to-human contacts have reduced more than 70%.”
'Normal life full of precautions'
It is “Sakura” time in Japan when gardens and parks are full of cherry blossoms.
“Tens of thousands of Japanese celebrate this season by going to public parks and weekends are crowded but coronavirus has affected it and the number of people has gone down,” said Ahmad.
But he said people go out for fishing and playing games, too.
“Human-to-human interaction has minimized,” he said. “It is people who have imposed a lockdown on themselves not the government because they are careful and take precautions on time.”
To stem the spread of the infection, Japan also imposed restrictions on foreign travel or those who enter the country to undergo quarantine.
Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said foreign travelers who have been in 14 countries -- including several Middle Eastern countries such as the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and also Russia -- within two weeks of arrival in Japan will be denied entry following the upgraded advisory, Kyodo news reported.Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.