“So is this the start of the Coronavirus Challenge Lottery?” asks opponent of Shinjuku program.

Tokyo has been seeing a resurgence of coronavirus infections since the start of the month, with several days in a row of over 100 new cases and the most recent daily figure, announced on July 9, hitting 224, the highest ever for the capital. With that background, it’s to a mixed response that Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward has announced a new coronavirus response program.

Under the program, any resident of Shinjuku Ward who is confirmed to be infected with the coronavirus will receive a grant of 100,000 yen (US$935) in “condolence money.” Recipients must have registered as residents of Shinjuku by April 7, one day before a state of emergency was declared in Tokyo due to the pandemic.

Some feel, though, the ward’s generosity is misplaced. Currently, there are 898 confirmed cases of coronavirus infections among Shinjuku residents, more than in any other of the 23 wards and 30 municipalities that make up Tokyo Metropolis. Shinjuku doesn’t have anywhere near the largest number of residents, though, as its total population only ranks 14th out of the 53 wards and cities (according to 2016 statistics).

In other words, Shinjuku has an unusually high rate of infection compared to other parts of Tokyo, and many feel the reason why can be found in the ward’s dense enclaves of hostess bars, host clubs, and other nightlife establishments that cover several city blocks in multiple spots near Shinjuku Station.

With the Japanese legal system not allowing for their forcible closure during the pandemic, all health experts can do is appeal to people’s sense of responsibility and discourage them from spending their night drinking and cozying up to the staff in such bars, but every few days seems to bring another news report of a new coronavirus cluster being traced to a host or hostess club. Because of that, some people in Japan are of the mind that a portion of Shinjuku’s infected contracted the disease through their own fault, and don’t feel that they should be rewarded for it, especially when there are already separate federal government grants providing financial aid to workers whose earnings have taken a hit during the economic downturn and also to students.

Reactions to the Shinjuku program on Twitter have included:

“Please don’t do this. It’s just going to encourage some idiots to get coronavirus on purpose.”
“This seems like a bad idea. I understand some people have to go out, but for those people who chose to go out for fun and got sick, I think they should take responsibility and pay for their own medical expenses.”

“If you receive a grant, then please at least self-isolate at home for the next two weeks.”

“I think it’s admirable to provide support to people, but I’m not 100-percent onboard with this. It’s like if you put forth the effort to social distance and stay home, the response is ‘Oh, um, thanks.’ But if you said ‘The hell with it,’ went out to party, and got infected? Then it’s ‘Oh, you poor thing! Here’s 100,000 yen.’”

“So is this the start of the Coronavirus Challenge Lottery?”

▼ Coronavirus in your body = money in your hands

With Japanese culture and society placing a strong emphasis on the well-being of the group, and thus heavy responsibilities on individual conduct, it’s not surprising that many are frustrated by a program that has the potential to reward people who’ve engaged in dangerously irresponsible, and thus arguably selfish, behavior. At the same time, among Shinjuku’s 898 coronavirus cases there must also be those who did all they could to follow guidelines and became infected anyway, and some of them may be in need of greater financial assistance than what federal grants are providing, especially with the cost of living in Shinjuku being high even by Japanese standards.

In the end, there’s really no easy answer as to what’s to be done, which is likely to make things all the more frustrating for those opposed to the plan if/when the next nightclub-related coronavirus infection occurs.

Sources: NHK News Web via Hachima Kiko, Twitter/@nhk_news, FNN via Hachima Kiko
Top image: Pakutaso
Insert images: Pakutaso (1, 2)
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