Coronavirus Update (17 March)

Hello Kumamoto,

It’s been a little while since our last update concerning COVID-19. No major changes have been made so far to the stance of the national or prefectural governments here in Japan, so as PAs there isn’t so much that we have been able to say to JETs over the last couple of weeks.

However, it cannot go without mentioning that coronavirus, which since last week is being described as a pandemic by the World Health Organisation, has provoked a severe economic and social crisis in many of the home countries of JET Programme participants here in Kumamoto, including but not limited to the U.S., the UK, Canada, Australia and France. 

As a result, much recent media coverage has been given to the situation in these countries. We are sure everyone has been following it closely, whether through the news or from family and friends back home. We are sending this e-mail today in the hopes we can provide some accurate and accessible information about the current situation in Japan and Kyushu, as well as share a few announcements that we think would be relevant for JETs.

●Summary of current coronavirus situation in Japan
Kumamoto Prefecture has not announced any new confimed cases since the sixth case was confirmed on 5 March as of our last e-mail. However, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare announced that it has categorised 15 locations across the country as “clusters” where community spread of coronavirus has been confirmed. 10 of these clusters have 10 or more confirmed cases.

The map of clusters published by the ministry is available here (Japanese only; for exact numbers you can cross-reference with the map here which is available in English).

The largest cluster is in Osaka, where the virus spread to over 50 attendees of concert houses in mid-February. The 6th case from Kumamoto announced earlier this month is connected to this cluster. 

Here in Kyushu, one such cluster has been declared in Oita, where the virus may have been spread by a symptomatic individual at a dining establishment and/or a sports gym. However, at present only one case has been confirmed by testing in Oita (source). In addition, a university student in Saga tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday last week. 23 contacts of that person were tested, all of whom were negative for the virus (source). The following day (14 March) the first confirmed case was announced in Nagasaki. The male in his 30s is asymptomatic but requested a test after learning a person he was in close contact with while in Osaka was infected (source). 

At the time of this update, Hokkaido has the most cases at 152, followed by Aichi with 123, Osaka with 110, and Tokyo with 100. Hyogo has 81, Kanagawa has 58 and Chiba 35. 

School re-openings
Schools have re-opened in a small number of municipalities in the country. Here in Kyushu, Saga Prefecture was planning to re-open prefectural schools until a case was confirmed there last week. The national government is currently planning to release a set of guidelines outlining the conditions that should be in place before schools are re-opened. (See NHK news article here, in English:
If there are any changes in Kumamoto Prefecture, we will let everyone know.

●Law gives PM ability to declare state of emergency
On Friday last week the National Diet added coronavirus to a list of infectious diseases for which the prime minister can declare a state of emergency (緊急事態宣言, kinkyū jitai sengen). At a press conference, the prime minister said that in his view, early measures such as cancelling large public events and closing schools have, for the time being, been effective at preventing an explosive spread in Japan, and the progress of COVID-19 has been held back to a certain extent. As a result, the decision to declare a state of emergency has not yet been made.

If a state of emergency is declared, it would, for a specified amount of time, give prefectural governors various emergency powers, including (1) the power to ask citizens to refrain from unnecessary outings, (2) the power to order restrictions on operation of entertainment facilities such as cinemas, (3) the power to temporarily expropriate property such as land or buildings for use as medical facilities, and (4) the power to procure necessary supplies for the public use such as medicine and food. (See this NHK article summarising the contents of Abe’s press conference on Saturday evening and this one discussing what could happen if a state of emergency is declared.)

That’s all we have for now. We’ll notify you if there are any further updates. 

Bilal Khan & Lily McDermott