The collapse of Japan is near

At the Toyoko Inn near Tokyo Central Station, you can only get a room with coronavirus these days. Tokyo's prefectural government has rented the business hotel to accommodate up to 100 people in isolation who have caught the new pathogen but show only mild or no symptoms. Certain people who are sick should not stay at home, even if the virus does not do them much harm. In order to save hospital beds, Tokyo even considered using the Olympic Village as an isolation ward during the postponed summer games. But then a decision was made in favor of hotels. The alternative quarters are definitely necessary, because the Corona crisis has become quite big in the country with a little delay.

Japan's coronavirus career from inconspicuous patient to nation in need is a mystery to outsiders. A few weeks ago, right-wing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spread the word at the highest diplomatic level that the Olympic Games could take place in Tokyo this summer as planned. Experts were amazed that of all things the aging China neighbor Japan had low numbers of infections in a world comparison. Europe and the USA had long since counted tens of thousands of deaths when the island nation was still praising itself for its effective hygiene culture, wearing masks and without shaking hands. It is quite possible that Abe even believed that his policies had contributed to the interim balance sheet, which as of March 25 had only 1,299 confirmed infections and 44 deaths. Because cancellations, reminders, school and other closings as well as an emergency law extension pushed personally by Abe should definitely have been contributions to the fight against the virus.

In hospitals and emergency rooms you gradually feel the excessive demands

But now the numbers are very different. On Sunday evening they stood at 10,620 confirmed infections and 222 deaths. That is still little compared to many other countries. However, until recently, Japan's health authorities only had people tested for the novel coronavirus when they thought it was necessary; People with severe symptoms or their contact persons. A little more than 112,000 people have therefore only been checked for Covid-19 so far - five times less than in the much smaller neighboring country South Korea. The number of unreported cases is particularly high in Japan.

In hospitals and emergency rooms you gradually feel the excessive demands. As early as April 6, the Association for Acute Medicine and the Society for Emergency Medicine declared in a statement: "The first sign of a medical breakdown is the breakdown of the emergency medical system, and it has already become a reality." Media reports that emergency services are struggling to accommodate people with Covid-19 symptoms. According to the AP news agency, a man with a fever and shortness of breath was turned down by 80 hospitals before paramedics found one for him. Osamu Nishida, head of the Japanese Society for Intensive Care Medicine, points out that there are only five intensive care beds for every 100,000 people in Japan. Less than in Italy (twelve), where the high number of deaths also has to do with limited medical options. Nishida believes that "an overshoot of deaths can be expected very quickly".

And Abe's style of government does nothing to calm the situation. Early on he talked about taking the crisis seriously, but then probably followed his instincts as a power man. Scientists like Kenji Shibuya, head of the Institute for Public Health at King's College in London, have long been calling for Japan to expand coronavirus tests, following the example of South Korea, so that more sick people can be found without symptoms and transmission routes can be better understood. The Abe government did not respond. Because she feared high case numbers because of the Olympics? But when the games were rescheduled and the number of infections suddenly rose, Abe continued to appear hesitant. Two weeks ago he declared a state of emergency for seven of 47 prefectures. Other prefectures reported promptly, claiming the state of emergency for themselves as well. And there was a dispute with Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike because she wanted to take less account of Abe's economic concerns in the interests of health.

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Most recently, even the Komei party, the small coalition partner of the Abe party LDP, rebelled against the prime minister's policies. Abe wanted to distribute 300,000 yen (2560 euros) crisis aid to certain families. The Komei Party wanted 100,000 for every person in the country. She prevailed, Shinzo Abe apologized for the confusion, and again everyone could see: the politics of the head of government are not working.

© SZ from April 20, 2020 / fie / cat