Japan's dire virus response all at sea

Editorial | Mary Ma 19 Feb 2020

Imagine the sheer nightmare of being trapped onboard the ill-fated Princess Diamond.

The cruise to hell will soon end for most of the 350 or so Hongkongers on board as they are allowed to leave the ship to escape the world's second-largest hotspot of the highly infectious coronavirus.

If everything goes as planned, they will be home early tomorrow.

Others testing positive will be left behind - unless the SAR government changes its mind, which is highly unlikely.

It must be said that the Japanese government's handling of the crisis has been totally disoriented. In a word, disastrous.

The ship has been anchored in Yokohama for about two weeks. As passengers were forced to isolate themselves in cramped cubicles - many without windows - the outbreak exploded onboard, with things spiraling quickly out of control.

With each passing day, the chance increases that healthy passengers will become infected.

It's fast descending into an abyss.

Of the 3,700-plus crew and passengers onboard, the number testing positive steadily increased to more than 450. But the crisis is not yet over and these alarming figures are not final.

One in every 10 people onboard has been infected to date. Why has Princess Diamond become the worst cluster of cases outside Wuhan? The Shinzo Abe government has to be blamed.

The cruise-ship crisis, as well as pockets of cases on land, laid bare the inefficacy of the country's public health defense when hit by a major emergency. The Abe government has been more laidback than anyone could have imagined.

Perhaps Abe is more concerned about a host of major international events upcoming in the year than the danger of the epidemic.

President Xi Jinping is due to visit Japan in the near future. This is a major political show for the prime minister, and he certainly wants his summit with Xi to take place in April as expected.

Both governments have said preparations for the summit will continue.

Then, in July, the Olympics will be launched in Tokyo. The International Olympic Committee has informed Japan the mega sports event will take place as planned despite the virus.

If those events are still some months away, the Tokyo Marathon will go ahead next month, even though the amateur part may be canceled. Don't you find that unnerving?

Politicians in Japan have failed to display a high level of vigilance. Abe could well be trying to strike a balance between the need to contain the virus and the necessity of avoiding upsetting the atmosphere for the year's major events.

But it would be foolish to put the latter ahead of the former, which would only result in proper precautions against a constantly changing public health crisis.

Japan is probably more vulnerable to the virus than other nations due to its aging population. And it seems that Japanese in general are not as wary about what is developing in their country. This may be explained by the fact that, unlike Hongkongers, they did not experience SARS in 2002-2003.

After a few pockets of community outbreaks were reported in Japan, Hongkongers steer clear from there for the foreseeable future.

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