We’re living at the time of strange happenings that nobody anticipated coming around. Who could tell at the beginning of the year that not only the sought after Olympic Games along with crazy football sessions in European arena would be forced to postpone the shows, but also almost all the airplanes that dot control room monitors non-stop all the time all over the world would also be forced to stop flying? Yet that unthinkable has happened; and happened not because of war and conflict making land and sky unsafe. And for human souls when things go bad to that extent, what remains is to try finding a safer shelter and wait for things to calm down. This is the stage of siege we are now in and this absurdity is continuing for almost three months; and how many more months we need to wait for a return to a relative normal life is anybody’s guessing game.
It is now more than two months that I did not set foot out of my small cozy home in remote Tokyo suburb, except for taking a short walk around to keep my body fit and going to the supermarket for filling up the stocks of essential commodities that a forced home stay demands. I strangely have found a comparison of this unsettling time with the tragic period of our history when many of us had been forced by human brutality to stay inside and keep on counting for the day when brute force were to be subdued. But the big difference is, back then we could see the perpetrators of such crime in the form of living human beings, albeit without souls inside. And now the enemy is nowhere to be seen, but causing havoc by cleaning up human habitats and keeping intact and untouched everything else that we humans have built and created. All of it also sounds almost like a science fiction story written by a master story teller where a war of the world is going on between the humans and invisible enemies coming from remote outer space.
It was first time in two weeks that I’ve ventured out this week to see for myself the outward damage the enemy forces have caused. We all know the only damage corona virus is doing is to take as many human lives possible within a short period of time. Everything else is supposed to stay intact and unharmed. But no, as the silent blow the economy of all countries sustaining are also causing serious outward damages, the overtly visible impact is now gradually unfolding. My first sojourn out of home after remaining confined for more than two months has provided me with the opportunity of witnessing firsthand the part of the other damages caused by corona attack.
In our ongoing war of fighting the corona enemy, countries have resorted to various options like lock down and declaration of a state of emergency. Both have serious implications for economies world around, causing not only disruption of commercial activities, but also forcing millions to a state of destitution as many are losing the source of earnings and joining the ranks of a new class of what we call in Bangla “shorbohara”. The plight of migrant workers in India’s big cities has already drawn international attention.
Japan is not in such a dire situation as generous stimulus packages are keeping the lower echelon of the society out of hunger’s way. But how long the country will be able to manage keeping the lid on creeping poverty due to the spread of corona virus is a question that too is now emerging as the virus keeps on causing havoc on economy. Japan’s service sector is seen as a main pillar that by absorbing a huge workforce is keeping the labor market stable. The sector that has sustained the biggest blow of corona virus is also this particular one. As I have ventured out taking the opportunity of lifting of the state of emergency, what came to my attention are lines of shops with closed shutters all along the busy shopping area of the town. In some of those shops notice has been pasted of their permanent closure, giving indication that the owners simply failed to sustain the blow at this difficult time and decided to close the business. And if we take into account the factor that each of such small enterprise was providing employment opportunity to at least two or three part-time workers, then a bigger scenario might appear to be unfolding.
In the service industry the worst sufferer is the tourism business that in the recent past was seen as a booming sector supported by the never ending flow of overseas tourists coming to visit Japan. The spread of corona virus has all of a sudden dried that sector all together; as Japan has seen almost 99.9 percent drop in inbound tourists in recent months. Last year the country had seen over 30 million overseas visitors flocking around not only the well known sightseeing spots, but also venturing around small towns all over. Money they have spent during the short trips was well enough not only to sustain the smaller outlets of service sector like restaurants, bars, eateries and souvenir shops, but also contributed significantly in the expansion of hotel and airline businesses. As there is no sign of corona virus taking a permanent leave after causing such wide spread damages, panic is now spreading all over around the sector about its long term impact.
The lifting of state of emergency shows clearly Japan’s success in tackling the corona virus problem. The government is now turning its focus of attention to post corona recovery that nobody knows how long it might take and how much money will be needed for achieving the target. The closure of economic activities have dented the confidence of policy makers as the estimated damage to country’s economic growth has been calculated somehow between 20 to 30 percent of GDP. Moreover, Japan’s success alone in tackling the spread of corona virus no way means the economy will now stand up again and start to run at the same pace as before. Since Japanese economy depends heavily on country’s biggest economic partners like China, United States and the European Union, nothing can be said to be guaranteed as long as corona situation remains unchecked in those places.
And for Japan’s tourism sector, it might take very long to get back what it has lost in just over a three month period. So, the closed shutters of shops, bars and eateries that I’ve seen during my first outing after a long period of keeping myself confined inside home, seem to remain shut down indefinitely from now on.
(Tokyo, June 1, 2020)