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  • Writer's picturegordonjcampbell

How did Tokyo get to “The New Normal?”

The Covid-19 restrictions were lifted in Tokyo last week, and our community is inching its way back to the “new normal.”

It’s been a strange run, and many of us are left wondering why or how Tokyo escaped with far fewer casualties than other major population centers. (Published statistics claim 14,406 people in Japan recovered from the coronavirus while 886 succumbed to the disease.)

Did Japan enforce strict curfews with fines and arrests to encourage behavior?

Not really. The Japanese government's initiatives were built around a voluntary “soft-lockdown “and relied on enforcement in the form of social shaming by the community.

The Japanese are famous for "hammering down nails sticking up," making cooperation the norm rather than the exception.

Bars, pachinko parlors, and other entertainment establishments refusing to cooperate were blacklisted and quickly responded by closing their business when the media exposed the antisocial behavior.

Did Japan aggressively test for the COVID-19 virus as demonstrated by Korea and apply meticulous contact tracing as executed in Singapore?

No. Japan's government is being challenged by experts in the global community for its inability to initiate comprehensive testing for COVID-19. (Many feel the "flattening of the COVID-19 graph may be an illusion based on inadequate or selective data.)

Did Japan practice social distancing?

Yes. Public schools canceled classes and all functions, including graduations from February.

A limited selection of elite athletes ran the Tokyo Marathon, followed by the indefinite postponement of large gatherings such as concerts, and baseball games. The closing of businesses, government offices, and entertainment venues started in April, long after other cities in Italy and the USA had suffered tremendous losses.

If Japan reacted late and without aggressive measures, how did it manage to flatten the curve?

We are waiting for the punch line. The answer might be as simple as Japan's accumulation of herd immunity and some social practices common to every Japanese family.

*Facemask: My Japanese wife puts on a facemask before riding a crowded train, and most of my Japanese associates wear a mask as a courtesy to others at the earliest signs of a common cold. This safety measure was a huge head start in dealing with COVID-19.

*Please take your shoes off at the front door: Japanese people don’t wear shoes inside the house. (Soles of shoes tested by medical workers at Wesmed Medical Group in New York found traces of COVID-19.)

*A bow is less dangerous than a handshake. The Japanese prefer to bow to one another when meeting and is advantageous during a pandemic.

Could the answer to Japan's success be as simple as early and gradual exposure to the COVID-19 virus as it made its way from China?

The jury is out on this one.

Would things common to the Japanese such as wearing facemasks, taking off your shoes, and bowing as opposed to shaking hands make a significant difference?

I’d like to believe it could be so simple. Time will tell.

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