East Asia is still being seen as a region of “success story” in taming the corona virus. It was in the region virus first emerged in January and then started its journey around the globe; causing heavy damages everywhere it laid its hands. However, East Asia is also the first to impose lockdown and resorting to other strict measures to stop the spread of virus further. The end result was a sharp drop in new infection figures as well as number of deaths. South Korea was the first country in the region to come clean and thus becoming a role model for others. South Korea’s success was followed by no less spectacular performances by China and Japan. As a result, by late May all three countries lifted restrictive measures that were in place to stop the spread of virus and were gradually moving back to normal life.
However, news coming from the region in recent days is giving a disturbing signal of a possible comeback of the virus, though still in a weaker form. South Korea reported 37 new cases of corona virus on Sunday, raising fear that it might have been too early to lift the vigilance. Though the figure stayed below 40 for the second straight day, authorities are concerned that new clusters might increase the figures in highly populated metropolitan areas.
China too is witnessing a surge of new corona virus cases. Beijing has reported on Sunday of 36 recorded new locally-transmitted corona virus cases, raising alarm that a second wave might be on way to the Chinese capital. This was for the second day that the newly detected cases in Beijing jumped to more than 30 after a period of over 50 days when the city had seen no new case.
And as for Japan, number of confirmed new corona virus cases continued to rise in Tokyo since emergency was lifted in late May. As of Sunday authorities have reported detecting 47 new infections. The figure is almost double from the counting of a day earlier when Tokyo announced 24 new cases; and fourth day in a row with more than 20 newly detected incidents. Sunday’s figure also marks the highest single-day count since May 5, when the Japanese capital reported 57 new infections.
All these disturbing news coming out of three East Asian countries are giving hint that corona virus is neither taking a permanent leave, nor they are being cornered by the approaching summer heat, which some experts had been predicted earlier. Though with the figure standing far below of what is still being seen in many other countries and not prompting alarm bells ringing again, yet they are not to be taken lightly or ignored.
We all know that most of the countries around the globe have by now hurriedly taken the uncomfortable decision of lifting restrictions, taking into account the colossal economic damages such steps had been causing. Besides, a number of countries like Japan are also trying hard to make sure that a second wave of virus attack does not come soon enough, at least not before effective preventive measures are in place. Virus too seems to be aware of that and trying to outsmart us by dodging every obstacle that we place for preventing its return.
Countries of the region are responding differently to this new surge of corona virus cases. China, for example, promptly moved again to shut down parts of the capital where more cases of virus were detected. South Korea, on the other hand, is giving priority to detect the routes of such new infections to stop their spreading further. As for Japan, the government and concerned authorities are not thinking about imposing the emergency again, though a number of new steps are on the table for further discussion. Tokyo Metropolitan government lifted the alarm call on June 11, saying the situation is gradually coming under control.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reaffirmed on Sunday that his government was exploring the possibilities of expanding the medical and testing schemes against the virus ahead of a potential second wave of infections. He said as examples coming out of countries where summer heat reaches to an extreme show clearly that higher temperatures of approaching summer are unlikely to slow the transmission of corona virus in Japan; the country needs to be vigilant. With the lifting of restrictions on business activities, Japan is calling on citizens to continue following the heath advisory for maintaining social distance.
It is more or less clear that Japan will not re-impose the state of emergency, nor will ask businesses to keep the doors shut. Economic stagnation caused by a six-week long state of emergency had taken a heavy toll and the government is not willing to take any measure that might weaken further the already damaged economy. So, what are the options left for Japan for combating a possible second wave?
Officials and experts are now convinced that the best way to fight the corona virus pandemic would be through expediting medical research for the invention of preventive vaccine as well as medicine for the treatment of patients. Government is channeling generous funding for such research initiatives while keeping an eye on development in other countries, so that Japan can promptly procure new drugs once they become available. At the same time, the government is also urging citizens not to relax personal safety measures like wearing face mask whenever they go out of their homes and avoid congested and crowded places, as well as washing hand and face on a regular interval.
Meanwhile, tracing the routes of new infections is also high on the agenda, as Abe mentioned on that the development of a smart phone application to notify users of potential contact with someone diagnosed with the infection is in its final stages and is due to be released later this week.
It now remains to be seen if such new initiatives will be enough for Japan to contain and conquer over the second approaching wave of corona virus. Lessons learned from the past three months of fighting the virus are working as guidelines and many in Japan now believe that the worst is possibly over, though they are reluctant to return to a lifestyle of the past that worked out as an easy breeding ground for the virus. So, probably a new norm off lifestyle is now already on way and how is it going to impact the economy is a different matter needs to be observed from now on.
(Tokyo, June 15, 2020)