Philip Patrick Philip Patrick

Is Japan about to enter a ‘London-style lockdown’?

(Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

Just like the Olympics, which ended a fortnight ago, the Paralympics is set to commence amid a drumbeat of doom. Japan appears to be in the middle of a Covid renaissance, with around 5,000 new cases a day in Tokyo. The games will take place, like the Olympics, in a ‘state of emergency’ that now covers 84 per cent of the country.

But how serious is the situation, and what exactly does 5,000 daily cases mean? Like much of the vaccinated world, the majority of the afflicted this time round appear to be younger people and overall deaths in Japan remain extremely low.

It is at least as much a question of etiquette as of health, of saving, rather than exposing one’s, face

The fear then is not of huge numbers of Covid fatalities but of the health care system being overwhelmed. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who has shown signs of being of a lockdown-sceptic persuasion, has been trying to move the debate in the direction of additional capacity and better triage rather than further restrictions. But he is having limited success: attempts to instigate a system where only the seriously ill are admitted to hospital has proved controversial, with doctors protesting that mild Covid symptoms can quickly become serious.

Suga’s weapon of choice, the state of emergency (we are in our fourth) is rapidly losing its power. While not quite lockdown-in-name-only, as the implications for the hospitality and travel industry have been grave, the states of emergency have, in truth, been no more than an irritation for the majority here. Official guidelines are not backed by much enforcement, most businesses are operating as normal and it’s all a far cry from the extreme curtailing of freedoms seen elsewhere.

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