–a short polemic about an incubating topic
Germany has decided that saving lives is more important than saving face. In a rather undiplomatic letter to German citizens in Japan posted on the Embassy Of Germany’s web site on March 24, the embassy did not mince words in discussing Japan’s poor handling of coronavirus testing. It warns that we should assume there are a high number of unreported carriers.
While noting that there is a possibility that German citizens might be entirely banned from entering Japan, the letter urges German citizens to exercise caution in coming to the country or staying. It notes that “For Germans and other EU citizens, visa-free travel to Japan is suspended until the end of April . New applications are possible, but the granting of visas is restricted.”
The most interesting passage is below. The brevity and beauty of the German language makes it a wonderfully chilling dense read.
“Das Infektionsrisiko in Japan ist nicht seriös einzuschätzen. Von einer hohen Dunkelziffer von Infektionen, bedingt durch die geringe Zahl durchgeführter Tests, ist auszugehen. COVID-19 Testmöglichkeiten gibt es weiterhin nur für bereits schwer erkrankte Personen (Symptome und 4 Tage hohes Fieber) und für Personen mit anderweitigem Anfangsverdacht (Kontakt zu Infizierten, Aufenthalte in Risikogebieten)”
It could be translated several ways. Please feel free to submit your own translation!
Here is one interpretation/translation by a German scholar.
“The [stated] risk of infection [from coronavirus] in Japan cannot be believed. A high number of non-reported cases can be expected, due to the low rate of testing. The possibility of being tested for the coronavirus continue only to be available for those who are very sick (four days of high fever) and for persons with other risk factors (contact to others infected, [those who have stayed] stay in high-risk areas.”
The first sentences strictly translated reads as follows:
“The risk of infection in Japan cannot be assessed seriously. It can be assumed that there are high number of unreported infections due to the small number of tests carried out.”
In the first line, “Nicht serious” can be translated as “not serious”–as in untruthful, mendacious.
Let us further translate the full two paragraphs above from diplomatic understatement to colloquial English.
“Japan is lying. No one can fucking believe what they’re saying, because how can they know if they don’t test? They are barely testing. They only test you if you meet super-stringent criteria. We’re going to see a surge in the numbers if they ever get off their asses and actually test people for the disease. Assume (auszugehen) there a lot of coronavirus carriers out there in Japan.”
My Social Studies teachers used to say, “You should never ‘assume’ because it makes an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me'”, but in this case we are all assuming the German Embassy in Tokyo is correct. As of March 2nd, Japan averaged 72 tests for coronavirus per million. Korea averaged 4099.
Things have slightly improved, as of March 20th, Japan had moved up to 117.8 corona virus tests per million people. Have a look at the chart—it’s an abysmal figure. You might mistake it for a visual representation of Japan’s gender equality ranking, which ranks at an all-time low of 121 out of 153 companies. In a positive sense, if sexual discrimination was something to be proud of, Japan would be in the top tier.
Everybody knows in Japan there’s no visible coronavirus epidemic because Japan generally doesn’t test people for it. It’s an obstacle course designed to prevent you from reaching the goal line of getting tested and possibly embarrassing the nation by making infection rates higher.
On March 18th, the Japan Medical Association announced that there were 290 cases of doctors deciding that a patient needed to be tested for coronavirus, and even then the patients were not tested. The term used by JMA “不適切事例” literally translated means “inappropriate/unsuitable cases”.
The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe seemed intent on keeping the official numbers of infected down and that means not only making the standards for getting a test very high (for example, you must have a fever of over 37.5 degrees Celsius for four days) but it also seems to be actively discouraging tests.
Why was Japan so gung-ho on not testing people? Mostly because Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his work-spouse, the incredibly opportunistic Governor Yuriko Koike, had feverish Olympic dreams, and wanted Japan to appear safe in the hopes of keeping the Tokyo 2020 Olympics on track. As soon as the Olympics were postponed (within 24 hours) Koike made a huge show of appearing decisive, warned of a spike in coronavirus cases, and asked citizens to stay home on the weekend. She warned of a possible lockdown.
What an amazing coincidence! Everything was fine until the Olympics were postponed and suddenly Japan woke up to a hidden coronavirus epidemic. Imagine that!
Another reason that testing has lagged behind is that some in the the medical profession in Japan believe that testing for the virus is a waste of taxpayer money. The rationale is that since you can’t cure the virus itself, you’re better off treating the symptoms–aka 対症療法. Have a read of the Manual For Responding To Coronavirus Infections at Medical Institutions (医療機関における新型コロナウイルス感染症への対応ガイド) (March 10th Edition) from the Japanese Society for Infection Prevention and Control, for further insight.
The Japanese approach so far is not completely without merit. Japan has avoided a total lockdown and hospitals are not yet over capacity. The manual notes that Japan has essentially moved past the point where containment is possible and now is in a period of widespread infection. If you give up on the idea of containing the virus, then it does make sense to put priority on saving the lives of the small percentage of people who become seriously ill after being infected. Up to 80% of those infected barely become ill.
The German Embassy isn’t saying anything outrageous; it’s just the facts, Fraulein. More than likely once people notice, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will shake their heads, possibly complain and the wording will change.
You can change the wording but you can’t change the truth.
Japan, under the catastrophic leadership of Prime Minister Abe, has been keeping the numbers of the infected down by not testing widely for the disease. NHK, which has in part, become a channel of state propaganda, duly reports on new cases of infection by first mentioning cases in which the infected caught the virus overseas, playing into a mythos of the problem coming from outside Japan. Meanwhile, the majority of new infections come from within Japan.
The Japanese government bears a huge responsibility for the spread of the virus within the country. The February 19 decision to let infected Japanese passengers leave the Diamond Princess cruise ship and go home by public transport, effectively distributed the virus nationwide. Was anyone surprised that later those who went home, supposedly cleared of infection, later started getting ill?
The poor quarantine protocols on the ship also resulted in over ten Ministry Of Health, Labor and Welfare worker becoming infected with the coronavirus. They were all sent straight back to work. The Ministry of Health refused at first to even test the workers. Then grudgingly tested 41. Then all of them.
We can probably assume that the Ministry of Health itself, in charge of dealing with the coronavirus, is full of infected employees. We can assume but we can’t know because just like The US Embassy in Tokyo, the Ministry basically refuses (or refused to) test workers who had been exposed to the coronavirus. In fact, as a microcosm of the problem, this article published on March 4th, A U.S. Embassy Refused to Test Exposed Staff for Coronavirus (more or less) correctly predicted the chaos to come in the United States.
Many politicians in the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan, including Prime Minister Abe, early on in the crisis, actually welcomed the coronavirus. They felt it would give them the impetus to change the constitution. Maybe they really do have a master plan to fuck things up so badly that the only way out is to give them what they want.
If that is the case, an ominous future awaits us.
As noted on February 24 in this article published in The Daily Beast Japan Shows Coronavirus May Be a Gift—for Would-Be Dictators…..
The virus has just jumped from one ship, the Diamond Princess, to another larger ship, as it were, the island nation of Japan.
As you read this, we are on the verge of an epidemic here and headed toward disaster; figuratively speaking, the captain is asleep at the wheel. The sailors are inexperienced. The passengers are getting sick, and some have already died.
And the answer given by those running the show? They say what they need is more command and control, a better ability to lock things down, stronger laws to make people keep quiet.