If you felt hopefully optimistic that Japan would be largely spared from the second wave of coronavirus infections that's been setting new records in Europe and North America, then look again.
Shukan Bunshun (Nov 12) reports that in Hokkaido, for instance, over the month of October new highs for the number of people testing positive were exceeded almost daily.
A local journalist at prefectural headquarters tells the magazine, "Hokkaido's first peak came last April 23, with 45 people testing positive in a single day. From the end of May onwards, the number of new cases fell to less than 10 per day, but then from late September the second wave hit, and on October 23, a new high of 51 people was set."
More disturbing was a government estimate issued last July predicting that a daily maximum of 96 new cases would test positive by autumn. This was reached on Nov 2.
"But the government is saying, we have yet to reach the peak," says the aforesaid reporter.
"Hokkaido is leaning toward issuing an advisory to refrain from two-way travel between other prefectures," a government source is quoted as saying.
Being the farthest north, Hokkaido is the first part of the country to encounter low temperatures with low humidity, conditions that enhance the spread of the coronavirus. In another month, wintry weather will cover the rest of the main islands, and this does not bode well for public health.
Actually, it's already beginning. Data from the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare compared the number of cases tested positive, and occupancy ratio of available dedicated hospital beds earmarked for coronavirus patients, in Japan's 47 prefectures between end-September and end-October.
Leading the rise in infections was Aomori Prefecture, where cases rose from 36 to 227, an increase of 630.6%. This was followed by Okayama (182.2%); Miyagi (178.8%); Fukushima (153.4%); and Hokkaido (148.8%). Tokyo was ranked 13th, with 120.8%, and Osaka 14th, with 120.4%.
As far as hospital bed occupancy, Aomori was tops again, with 27.9% of available beds for COVID-19 cases occupied, a one-month increase of 27.3 points. Rounding out the top five in terms of rises in bed occupancy were Miyagi (21.2 points); Okinawa (19.2); Okayama (14.0) and Kumamoto (7.0). In Tokyo and Osaka, bed occupants actually declined between end-September and end-October, by minus 4.5 and minus 5.6, respectively.
Despite the obvious warning signs, the government has been blithely promoting its Go To Travel campaign to stimulate regional economies, and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga appears to be pleased with the results.
Haruo Ozaki, president of the Tokyo Medical Association, believes it's possible that travelers from Tokyo to the provinces who eat out and enjoy local night life may be responsible for cluster infections. And these localities are poorly set up to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.
"At least in Tokyo there are some doctors with experience in treating the pandemic," says Ozaki. "But that's not the case for local areas. Nor are there enough physicians to go around. If over 100 cases were to flare up over a short period, treatment facilities would be stretched to the limit."
So what can a person do? Professor Shinichi Tanabe of Waseda advises that in addition to somehow keeping rooms ventilated, striking a happy medium between 40 to 70% humidity is advisable. Below 40% makes it easier for the virus to propagate; above 70% leads to water condensation on inner surfaces, enabling the growth of molds.
Professor Koichi Wada at the International University of Health and Welfare in Tochigi believes that a key factor in increase of new cases from this autumn is that restrictive measures initially put in place to deal with the first wave of the coronavirus have been allowed to slacken.
"Up to next March, if we are able to hold down the spread of the virus, things will become much brighter," Wada tells Shukan Bunshun. "The real battle will be making it through the winter."© Japan Today