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Self-preservation strategies for Japan's train commuters have their limitations

9 Comments

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

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

9 Comments
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There is a climate of fear on trains at present.

Coughing passengers are frowned upon and people consciously move away from them.

One plus point is that passengers are fewer and crowds everywhere I go are less.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

This article has so many holes it resembles swiss cheese.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Post-industrial overpopulation life has arrived.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I don't get it. Why should people be scared of going outside? That doesn't make sense at all. Just be smart about where you go

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Oh i can remember the stares when i’d drink some water, get it down the wrong throat and cough. People in Japan will look at you like you’re carrying the black plague or something. Prejudice can be really bad down there. I can just imagine how much worse it must be now,

2 ( +3 / -1 )

"The only practical means of getting from their homes to their workplaces is by commuter train and or bus."

And there has been no sudden widespread epidemic. And considering how every commuter day is the same there will likely be no medieval plague hitting Japan. How do you explain that? My wild guess is that the coronavirus is hard to get here is generally clean little Japan. I cannot thing of anything else.

Masks are more a fashion statement these days, more than anything else. It shows you are against the virus and want your bit to stop it.

Here is where you can can be of service. Please convince people not to hoard toilet paper, There is no need for it. Coronavirus does not respect toilet paper wealth.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

The recommendations make sense but as usual nothing is a perfect protection, specially if done wrong, unfortunately you can see lots of people not covering their nose and mouth properly or constantly touching the outside of the mask, etc. Doing that and now wearing the mask in the first place is the same thing.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I hope the "shame" of getting stared at and shunned would convince people to stay home, but I guess they fear more their kacho's scorn.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

What frightens me most is the media's hysteria, creating shortages and panic for the sake of ratings / sales, and the simple-minded who believe everything they read / see/ hear. I read a headline screaming about the first virus death in Thailand. Buried deep in the story was the fact that the victim also had dengue fever (remember the dengue panic in Tokyo after fever-carrying mosquitoes were found in Yoyogi Koen?) This is yellow journalism of the worst kind (that's not racist, by the way -- "Yellow journalism or the yellow press is a type of journalism that does not report much real news with facts. It uses shocking headlines that catch people's attention to sell more newspapers. Yellow journalism might include exaggerating facts or spreading rumors."

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

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