Coronavirus and the Tokyo Olympics

I thought I’d write a little about the situation in Japan and how it may affect the Tokyo Olympic Games that are due to start in August.

There are cases of the virus in many prefectures, though not nearly as many as in neighbouring South Korea. However, this may be because the Koreans have far more testing and are far more draconian in their isolation measures for those thought to have the virus.

Some doctors believe that there are many more cases in Japan than the official figures indicate. Certainly, the cruise ship the Diamond Princess, moored off Yokohama, had very poor quarantine on board, and the initial infection eventually spread to over 600 people. Those who tested negative were sent home, but a few of those later tested positive, and almost certainly unwittingly infected others.

Monitoring passengers from The Diamond Princess

A legal change this week will allow Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to declare a state of emergency to address the Corona virus outbreak if he deems it necessary.

Most schools have been shut a few weeks ahead of the spring break that precedes the new academic year in April. Sports and music events have been cancelled and popular leisure spots such as theme parks closed to reduce group transmission risks, while many are shunning going shopping or eating out. The current Sumo tournament in Osaka is being held with spectators barred, but still being televised. It’s strange seeing the huge stadium empty, and being able to hear the wrestlers breathing hard as they compete in silent hall.

Sony Corp., Honda Motor Co. and other major companies in Japan are cancelling or postponing their spring initiation ceremonies for new recruits in response to the government’s call to avoid mass gatherings.
If the ongoing spread of the virus forces Japan to cancel the Olympics, it would reduce the country’s annual gross domestic product growth by 1.4 percent, according to an estimate by a securities firm.

So what’s it like to live in Tokyo these days? A majority of people are wearing facemasks and, outside work hours, far fewer people are travelling on trains and in restaurants than is normal. 

Solitary couple wearing face masks

There are major shortages of tissues, toilet paper and facemasks in the shops as people horde. I managed to get some toilet paper yesterday – good job, we were almost out of it as none has been available for a week.

Rush hour in Shinagawa Station

The cherry blossoms will be out soon (early this year due to the mild winter) but no doubt large gatherings under the trees will be discouraged this year.

All of this has been bad for Japan’s economy, which shrank by 6.3 percent in the October-December period, the sharpest fall since 2014, as a consumption tax hike in that quarter apparently took its toll. And now tourism, the restaurant trade, taxis, and entertainment and arts of all kinds are all hurting from the lack of trade. It is almost a certainty that Japan will go into recession in the next financial quarter. If the Olympics are cancelled, after huge cost in infrastructure and new stadiums, it could be disastrous for Japans already faltering economy.

Stock markets diving due to virus fears

A final decision on whether to proceed with the games will be taken in May.

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All photos and text copyright © Tony Smyth