After weeks of partially clumsy crisis management, the Japanese government suddenly closes all schools to bring COVID-19 under control. The fear is that the Olympic Games could be canceled.
The Japanese government could have been satisfied with that. But the rapid spread of the virus in other countries has raised doubts abroad whether Japan is really doing enough about COVID-19. So far, the country has reported only 210 illnesses and four deaths. The numbers hardly increase, although the cases are spread across all regions. This fuels the suspicion that only the tip of an iceberg can be seen. “For every person who tested positive, there are probably hundreds of people who have not tested with mild symptoms,” Masahiro Kami, head of the Medical Governance Institute in Tokyo, told Bloomberg Financial Services.
Because unlike in South Korea, there is hardly any testing in Japan. One reason: Potentially ill people have to meet several conditions such as a long fever for a test. The procedure should probably avoid panic, protect the health system and save costs. Some hospitals refuse test requests for fear of possible quarantine. Between February 18 and 23, only 5700 tests, including those on the cruise ship, took place, Health Minister Katsunobu Kato reported in parliament.Premier Abe has not been a shining example as a crisis manager so far
Criticism of school closure
In the face of growing criticism from the opposition against this undecided crisis policy, the head of government is trying to restore his authority with the abrupt school closure. However, many working parents are now forced to take time off to look after their children. Abe received some criticism for this on Twitter, the most important social medium in Japan. The prime minister also created anger and confusion within his own ranks. Ministry of Education officials were not informed and thought the move was wrong. “Who will take care of the younger elementary school students? A nationwide school closure poses so many problems that it cannot possibly be an option,” said a senior official. Abe also refrained from providing convincing medical reasons. “
But there is a lot at stake for Abe. “He wants to regain lost confidence in his ability as a crisis manager,” commented political scientist Maslow. Indeed, the weakness of politics and administration in the virus fight reminds some observers of the amateurish way of dealing with the nuclear disaster in Fukushima in March 2011. At that time, the prime minister – it was Naoto Kan – had to take his hat off. Abe now wants to avoid this fate. However, his unexpected turnaround in virus policy threatens to trigger panic for the first time: on Friday, handkerchiefs and toilet paper were sold out in many shops.