Now that the Covid-19 crisis is fast becoming a reality, two pieces of advice -- "avoid crowds of people" and "avoid going outside" -- are indisputably sensible and well intentioned. But for millions of Japanese urban workers, it's one they will be hard-pressed to follow. The only practical means of getting from their homes to their workplaces is by commuter train and or bus.
What can one possibly do, asks a frantic Shukan Shincho (March 5), to protect oneself from coronavirus infection on jam-packed rush hour trains?
Transmission of the virus, it is believed, takes two forms. Droplets spread by sneezes and coughs, or through direct contact. The right information is needed to shut these out while aboard a crowded commuter train.
"Naturally wearing a mask will be effective to prevent droplets from entering the nose and mouth," says professor of epidemiology Tetsuya Matsumoto at International University of Health and Welfare in Tochigi Prefecture. "If you don't have a mask, I think it's best to go to the wall of the railway car and stand so that you face the wall. That should reduce the risk of your being sprayed directly with droplets."
"There's also the possibility of infection via the mucous membranes of one's eyes. Those who have both contact lenses and regular eyeglasses should wear eyeglasses when they're outside," Matsumoto adds.
"This new type of pneumonia has a characteristic cough," says professor Koji Wada, Matsumoto's colleague at the same institution.
"Coughs are to be feared more than sneezes," he continues. "This time of year, someone's sneeze is more likely to be caused by hay fever. The person to watch out for is a passenger not wearing a mask, who is coughing constantly. Try to put as much distance as you can from them. And if that's not possible, it probably makes sense to get off the train and wait for the next one."
Shukan Shincho's reporter then asked Dr Hideomi Nakahara about direct transmission.
"Basically, you should avoid grasping a bar or hand strap, since viruses might be present," he says, adding that viruses can survive on metal or plastic surfaces for up to 48 hours.
"Wearing gloves can be effective," Nakahara added. "But you have to be careful when putting them on or taking them off, since the virus can be passed on at that time. It's best to use cloth gloves, and sterilize them in boiling water once a day. Or, if the gloves are the vinyl disposable type, just discard them. That's what I've been doing."
Such gloves are affordable -- they sell for 300 yen for 100 -- and at present there's no shortage in supply.
The article ends with the writer taking a pot shot at the government, which he accuses of being too slow, and adopting the wrong approach to the crisis. That, he says, is far scarier than taking one's chances on a packed commuter train.© Japan Today