Cumbernauld and Kilsyth ex-pat provides bird’s eye view on crisis in Japan

A former Cumbernauld and Kilsyth resident who lives in Japan has provided a fresh update on how daily life is now being affected by the virus in the land of the rising sun.

Wednesday, 1st April 2020, 10:04 am

Liam Carrigan has been speaking about the changes he has seen in recent weeks - including the fact that the Tokyo Olympics have now been postponed.

Here is what the English teacher and writer has to say.

“A few weeks ago, the Cumbernauld News was kind enough to give me a platform to speak out on the issue of the Covid-19 outbreak and how it was affecting Japan.

I spoke out to try and calm what I saw as a panic, and indeed downright irresponsible reporting in certain elements of Britain’s predominantly right wing press.

The “tens of thousands of deaths” they forecasted for Japan did not materialize, and I hope that they won’t.

However, I too must acknowledge my own fault in all this.

Looking back on it, some of the language I used in that article could have led you to believe I was being dismissive of this virus and the danger it posed.

I was not, and I apologize if I gave that impression.

I do however admit that I underestimated this thing, and just how fast it would spread.

I guess you could say I have done a 180 on the virus in the past month or so, as indeed have many of us.

In Japan, we still have far less reported infections than most other countries. And in my area of Japan, Nagano prefecture, there have only been 8 confirmed cases, of which 4 have already recovered completely.

This doesn’t really tell the full story though.

Oddly enough, before the IOC announced last Tuesday that they intended to push the Tokyo Olympics back by a year, cases in Japan seemed to have barely increased at all.

Fast forward a few days, and by Saturday Tokyo alone was reporting more than a hundred new infections, with a form of soft lockdown imposed by the city’s governor, and we also have reports of new infection clusters emerging in neighbouring Chiba and Saitama prefectures.

It’s clear to everybody here, though no one is willing to say it publically, that the Japanese government did all they could to artificially keep the numbers low while they still had a chance of moving ahead with the Olympics.

They had a policy of not testing anyone unless they developed severe pneumonia. Statistics elsewhere show that this only applies to about 5 to 10 percent of total infections.

So, on that metric alone, Japan now probably has a similar number of infections to the UK, yet we still have less than 10 percent of the number of recorded fatalities.

There seem to be a few conflicting theories as to why this is the case.

First, is the notion that the under-reporting of infections has continued post-mortem, with deaths from Covid-19 complications being erroneously recorded as deaths by pneumonia or seasonal flu, as the symptoms would present in a similar manner, and a positive covid-19 diagnosis is impossible without a test.

Secondly, local scientists are looking into the possibility that Japan’s unique vaccination program, which was borne out of post-WW2 viral pneumonia and tuberculosis outbreaks, may have, unknowingly provided some additional protection to Japan’s population against this virus. However, this is purely speculative at the moment and I really don’t know enough about the vaccination program or the research going into it to make an intelligent comment on the subject.

Third, and perhaps most likely, is the suggestion that Japan was already operating many of the “social distancing” protocols that Europe has brought in since the outbreak.

It’s common here to wear face masks to work and when using public transport during flu season, which is usually from around November to March, and hand sanitizers being stationed at the entrance to most public buildings and, in my case, outside every classroom, is also standard practice at this time of year.

This may have bought Japan a vital few extra weeks in staving off an epidemic.

I’ve definitely noticed a change, just in the last couple of days, amongst my friends and colleagues here. They see what’s happening in Italy and Spain and they fear we could be next.

It was all brought into focus this morning when NHK News announced that Ken Shimura, a very popular TV personality and comedian (basically Japan’s answer to Billy Connolly) had died of Coronavirus.

It’s a sad indictment on modern society that the death of one famous person generates far more conversation and caution than the death of a hundred ordinary citizens, but hopefully this is the proverbial kick up the backside that Japan needs to get their act together on this.

As a 36 year old who, beer belly notwithstanding, is in good health, I know that if I do get infected than the odds are still very much in my favour. However, as I said previously, I’m far more concerned for those around me. My neighbours are mostly elderly people, and both of my parents have medical conditions which put them into the “high risk” category. Given that it’s likely to be this time next year before a vaccine is rolled out, even if I can avoid catching the virus until then, a trip home to Scotland for Christmas seems very unlikely at this point, in case I unknowingly pick this up in transit then pass it on to my parents.

Schools are supposed to be going back to normal next week, but that was announced before the latest outbreaks in Tokyo and Osaka so I really don’t see that happening now.

I doubt even a government as belligerent as the current one here would be that irresponsible.

Indeed, just last night, I heard that two English teachers from the US have contracted the virus after ignoring health warnings and deciding to go visit travelling around Japan during spring break.

We all need to be vigilant now, and I hope that Japan will, perhaps for the first time in its modern history, set aside the “if you can walk, you can work” mentality and allow myself and my colleagues to work from home. There are no classes and unlikely to be any for quite some time, so there’s no need for us to be here.

To my friends and family in Scotland, I would like to once again reassure them that we are ok over here. Things may be getting tougher, but we remain positive and hopeful that we will all get through this.

Stay safe everyone.”

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