If you’re an extremely dedicated follower of international news like me, you may have heard of this new obscure new disease called the ‘coronavirus’, or more accurately ‘COVID–19′.
Now, I’m no expert in medicine, international politics, domestic politics, infectious diseases, advanced statistics, epidemiology, public health, rudimentary statistics, or hygiene or so I’m not qualified to tell you much about the current situation. But I do live in Japan, which is all the qualification I need to act like I know things.
So what’s the situation on the ground here in Japan? Well, things are kind of just…shutting down. All over the country – but especially in the big cities – schools are being closed, events are being cancelled, and businesses are struggling due to a lack of customers.
There’s also been a fair amount of panic buying – not quite ‘imminent hurricane’ or ‘alien ship destroys White House with cool laser’ levels of panic buying, but according to my friends back in the big city of Nagoya their local supermarkets have had plenty of empty or near-empty shelves. Face masks and toilet paper are especially popular panic buying options now. (I assumed toilet paper was in such high demand because of shortages faced by some people displaced after the 2011 earthquake, but no: I guess there were rumours that Japan would stop importing made-in-China toilet paper due to the outbreak)
I don’t want to paint a picture of a country completely refusing to go outside – life is carrying on. People are going to work. Taking public transport. Going about saying things like ‘Plus Alpha’ and ‘Baby Car’ as if they were real English words. But it’s not quite life as normal.
The closure of the nation’s schools in particular is causing working families real trouble. Unable to take time off or bring their children to work, many people are relying on hastily put together day care groups – i.e. responding to the government’s decision to avoid clustering easily-infected children together by clustering all their easily-infected children together.
But it’s hard to blame them – what do you expect parents to do in this kind of situation? How many families have the money to deal with an unexpected month off school in any other way?
And the financial worries don’t stop there. Small business owners are obviously taking a hit. And freelancers (like *me*, who has lost about a month’s worth of paying work, and who is clearly the hardest hit by this global medical crisis), are facing cancelled contracts with no one to bail them out. There is talk from the government of reimbursing people for lost earnings, but even if that does end up happening at some point down the line many people are going to struggle to make ends meet until then.
But what about things here in Nagiso? Well, as you can imagine we’re pretty insulated out here in the sticks. A bunch of events have been cancelled, but no on seems particularly concerned, and the local supermarket has a veritable king’s bounty of toilet paper on offer.
When I asked my neighbour if the neighbourhood meeting/hard liquor drinking party was going to be cancelled he just laughed and said ‘Nah, no one here really cares about that weird virus’. I’m fairly certain he didn’t even know what it’s called – that’s how much of a shit people here don’t give.
So maybe things will be fine here – maybe it’s only a problem for those big city folk, with their fancy suits and their workable public transport. Or maybe in a couple weeks time you’ll see a news article titled ’30+ Infected At Countryside Bacchanalia’.
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