No social distancing at parks, shops and tourist sites on a Sunny Sunday. 

For a while, coronavirus cases in Japan were surprisingly low compared to a number of other countries around the world. However, with very few tests being conducted, pundits wondered if the true numbers might be higher and people had been lulled into a false sense of complacency at a time when cities around the world were shutting down.

Now, infections are rising at an alarming rate and unknown routes of transmission in new cases have been as high as 70 percent, prompting the Japanese government to issue a nationwide state of emergency. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has repeatedly asserted that a lockdown like the ones seen in London and New York is not possible here, due to civil liberties protected by the Constitution, and can only ask that people stay home and avoid non-urgent, non-essential outings to help save lives.

At a recent press conference, Abe said: “Person-to-person interactions must be reduced by 80 percent, or at least 70 percent, in order to end the emergency declaration in a month”. Judging from scenes on the weekend, however, the emergency declaration may well need to be extended because people appear to have missed the memo to stay home.

At Enoshima, a popular beachside destination in Tokyo’s neighbouring Kanagawa Prefecture, people were sightseeing in such great numbers on Sunday that there were traffic jams on the roads.

“Enoshima today. The number of infected people certainly won’t be decreasing.”

This lineup of cars was headed towards Kamakura, another popular tourist spot in Kanagawa, at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday.

In Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward, which has the highest number of coronavirus cases in the capital, people were out and about in droves, enjoying the sunny weather as if it was an ordinary weekend.

“Setagaya Park is crowded…80 percent [reduction in social contact] non-existent.”

“Setagaya Park is about 20 percent more crowded than usual. Self-restraint mode is totally over.”

Komazawa Olympic Park, which lies mostly in Setagaya Ward, but stretches partly into Meguro Ward, was originally constructed for the 1964 Summer Olympics. On Sunday, it was crowded with people using the running, cycling and walking tracks that circle the park.

Since the very early stages of the coronavirus outbreak in Japan, the government has been asking people to avoid the “Three Cs” of: Closed spaces; crowded places; and close-contact settings. While they’ve now moved on to ask people to stay home as much as possible at all times, it appears that the public has gotten used to thinking that non-closed, open-air environments pose little risk to catching the disease.

This goes some way to explaining why parks and other outdoor areas like the bank of the Tama River at Futakotamagawa were crowded on the weekend.

Another problem arises with the case of shops being allowed to remain open during the state of emergency. As shops are considered an essential service, people appear to think that a leisurely window shop isn’t any different to an essential grocery shop.

In Shinagawa Ward, the shopping arcade at Musashikoyama, the longest covered arcade in the city, was crowded with people.

“No two-metre social distancing here…”

Kichijoji, in Tokyo’s Musashino City, is another popular shopping area that was filled with shoppers in close proximity to one another on the weekend.

▼ By contrast, this is Kichijoji at 8:00 p.m. at night.

Why the difference between night and day? Because the Tokyo government has requested that stores shorten their business hours and restaurants close by 8:00 p.m. and izakaya taverns close by 7:00 p.m.

▼ The closures have turned other areas of the city into ghost towns at night, like Shibuya

▼ And Shinjuku.

The government’s focus on nighttime closures has prompted jokes from the public about how the virus must only come out at night, but it’s proving to be an effective strategy to keep people indoors.

However, as we know, the virus doesn’t just come out at night — it’s active twenty-four-seven, and all it takes is one face-touch or one sneeze or cough within two metres (six feet) to spread at an alarming rate between individuals, regardless of whether you’re at a restaurant, a store, a tourist spot or the local park.

If people can’t follow the example of famous faces like Abe and Gen Hoshino and just stay home, the government may have to ramp up coronavirus countermeasures and place even more restrictions on public movement and businesses. So, for the love of God, and your fellow neighbour, take note of the current social distancing guidelines and please…stay the heck home.

Source: Hachima Kikou 
Featured image: Twitter/@aoyamacapital
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