Several parts of Japan have seen the number of cases rise to August levels, prompting many experts to fear the emergence of a “third wave”. They include the capital Tokyo, the second largest city of Osaka, and the far northeastern region of Hokkaido.

On November 9, a Japanese government subcommittee tasked with recommending policy held an emergency press conference to share recent trends in COVID-19 contagion data.

Some of its recommendations included specific measures on how to support foreigners when they arrive from abroad and during the testing process.

However, following misleading statements in the media and rumors exchanged on SNS, some conversations within the foreign community have turned to people accusing the Japanese government of being xenophobic.

Memes have been circulating in some groups on Facebook and Instagram pages claiming the Japanese government is lacking in tact towards foreigners, with some offering to contact relevant embassies and Twitter accounts to express their outrage. What was missing in all of this was an honest look at what was actually being said.

Fuji TV, screenshot from Live News It! The headlines read: “Due to language and culture differences with foreigners, COVID-19 prevention policies are not being enforced. “

We have set the record straight.

Experts sound the alarm

At the press conference on November 9, experts sounded the alarm as COVID-19 cases in the country increased. Dr Shigeru Omi, who heads the subcommittee, told reporters: “Put simply, even if we look at the numbers across the country, the rate of spread of the infection is slowly increasing.

He explained that the nature of clusters was diversifying and that clusters were becoming more and more difficult to trace. Therefore, he said: “If we do nothing now while the number of cases is slowly increasing, there is a good chance that the rise will become sharp and exponential.”

Japan recorded around 500 new cases per day for the month of September. But there has been a steady increase since the last weeks of October, reaching a peak of 1,736 new cases on November 14, the highest since the start of the pandemic in early 2020.

Dr Omi outlined five steps that could be taken to tackle the increase in cases:

  • Strengthen current policies for tracing clusters.
  • Create a dialogue on other measures.
  • Fight against contagion in the workplace.
  • Set up structures to help international travelers.
  • Trace the different genetic variations of the virus.

Various aspects of the problem were discussed at the press conference, and one of them was picked up by some Japanese media, including Fuji Television, or was the fact that “due to differences in culture and language between foreign communities, the virus is spreading ”. TV Asahi showed a similar misleading headline in a separate story.

The government wants to support foreigners

The committee found that some of the new hard-to-trace cases came from restaurants, foreign communities, after-school clubs at schools and universities, and workplaces.

“Foreign communities” was only one front mentioned among several that deserved government action, as experts explained the nationwide notable loosening of anti-virus measures by residents of the communities mentioned.

With regard to foreign resident communities in particular, however, the message was not one to point fingers. Rather, it was admitting that the government was not doing enough to support the foreign community, which the government said needed clearer information about testing and how to access medical facilities in order to quickly and effectively fight new infections at an early stage.

Dr Omi said:

As for the foreign community, there is the language difference, and there is the reality that for foreigners, wide access to medical tests is more difficult compared to ordinary Japanese citizens. It doesn’t mean it’s discrimination, but rather we want to support them, and we think it’s very important. It is a reality that there is a difference in language and access, so it is more difficult to find the spread of new cases.

Obstacles for foreigners

Currently, many requests for testing and tracing are reaching a bottleneck in medical centers known as hokenjo. While these local health centers can be of great help, their Japanese-language-based environment can sometimes be a barrier for those who do not speak Japanese.

JAPAN Before investigated how a non-Japanese resident would go about taking a PCR test in Tokyo. When calling a hotline at the Suginami Neighborhood Medical Center, I was told that the best way would be to go through the most suitable center for foreigners in the neighborhood office and ask them to call the PCR center. For someone who is not fluent in Japanese, this tip alone could prevent the resident from seeking additional help.

The bottom line is that much of the effort still depends on the language skills available at the local level, and lacks a coordinated effort to bridge the language gap.

The difference in “culture” cited in the title of Fuji TV likely alluded to the fact that some groupings were attributed to events that took place in foreign communities. Again, language barriers seemed to have twisted the issue, with the topic not being highlighted throughout the press conference.

Dr Omi explained:

There have been a few reports of contagions occurring in foreign communities, so we need to support them. This can be done by disclosing information in different languages ​​and easy Japanese, and by creating different channels where people can seek advice or voice their concerns. For this, we must coordinate with embassies, as well as with NPOs who have experience of international cooperation.

More support for international travelers

Another issue that Dr Omi highlighted was the need to put in place appropriate support structures for international travelers.

Although it could be said that this shows different treatment of foreigners, it was rather an admission that the Japanese government has to offer. After support for those who come from abroad, no less. This is especially true as the Japanese government has eased travel restrictions with 16 countries since this month. (article link)

“We have to do a better job of relating who came, where they came from, were they tested, what the test result was,” Dr Omi said. “We must allow rapid follow-up in the case of a person coming from abroad.

Monitoring of different variants of the virus

Finally, the subcommittee recommended improving the investigation of the different variants of the virus in order to better cope with an increase in infections.

Asked about the follow-up, Dr Takaji Wakita, director general of the Japanese National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NIID) explained, “In part of the cases the origins can be traced nationally, but in part the origin is unknown. . It may have been imported from abroad. But we are not sure, so we need to delve into this aspect in order to be fully prepared. “

Research in this area should be a welcome development. Nihon Keizai Shimbun reported November 15 this Science magazine published research by Dr. Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Tokyo, who conducted an experiment on hamsters. He found that different strains of the virus appeared to have different levels of strength and contagion.

It is believed that further research into the pathways and origins of the different viral variations could help prevent an explosive spread like those seen in other countries.

Coping with corona fatigue

It was clear that a main theme throughout the press conference was that many wanted to return to normalcy after so many months of sacrifice.

“Before, we always aimed to avoid close contact and crowded places. But now there is also the feeling of wanting to get back to normal. People want to go out to eat, take off their masks and have a good time, ”explained Dr Omi.

None of this was related to foreigners. It was a general comment on the population as a whole.

Dr Omi identified five situations in which the spread of infection was more likely:

  • drinking
  • dormitories and small shared spaces
  • long events and festive dinners
  • conversations without masks
  • places like smoking areas

Misunderstanding arose from bad titles. But that does not mean that we should blame each other unnecessarily, especially when the fight to the end of the pandemic is still long.

Author: Arielle Busetto

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