Somewhere downstairs in the storage room, there’s a box with a lot of old papers. Among them, a few select school papers I chose to keep, for one reason or another. Among the surprisingly good ones (8 or 9 out of 10), there is one with nothing on it but a big, fat, red zero.
I wrote that paper in grade 9, for Social Studies. I’d been sick for a few days, and a friend had called me up to let me know what I’d missed. A paper had been assigned, due Monday… with a weird topic, but ok… I’d missed several classes and didn’t really know what was going on. The topic was something like “Discuss the potential implications of youth in Asia in Canada.”
Odd… but, I’d recently done a big project on Japan, and knew all about Japanese schoolgirls and their influence on the world, how marketing companies in Japan were catering to their wishes and how the world was watching that, etc. This was the early 80s, and “Made in Japan” was a lot more common than “Made in China”. I had plenty of material, and I wrote what I thought was an excellent paper.
The teacher was a super-cool guy, Mr. Turner… who years later went off and founded a very successful outdoor school. On this day, he handed back all of the papers except mine. “See me after class” was all I heard.
So, I stuck around after… and he was usually very chill, but for once he was actually mad. “What the hell is this?”, he asked, as he threw the paper in my direction. He thought I was making a stupid joke, but the truth is, up to that point, I’d never heard the word “euthanasia”.
There was a moment of great confusion… then laughter… and he let me go home and re-write it… but the jokes kept coming… for years. He also taught grade 12 Geology… so three years later, on a test where I wrote an answer to a question about plate tectonics, he commented something like “the magma gets it moving but the youth in Japan keep it going!” Yeah, LOL. Cheers, Tim… wherever you are.
All that being said, there’s plenty to learn from Japan. Their handling of this pandemic has been exemplary, especially when you consider how crowded it is, and the advanced age of their population. This pandemic should have decimated that country, yet it’s been the opposite.
For comparison, here are some numbers…
Tests per million of population:
Canada — 363,000
U.S. — 772,000
Japan — 39,000
Cases per million of population:
Canada — 16,000
U.S. — 63,000
Japan — 2,000
Deaths per million of population:
Canada — 410
U.S. — 1,074
Japan — 28
More people will have died from C19 in the U.S. in the last 24 hours than in Japan since the very beginning.
What did they do right?
Did they do massive lockdowns, like so many other places? No. Did they try the “let it run wild but shelter the elderly” approach, like Sweden and, briefly, the U.K.? No. Did they massively test everyone over and over? Clearly not.
What looked like a cloud but turned out to be a very silver lining was the ill-fated cruise ship Diamond Princess, consumed with C19, that arrived in Japan in February. Their 3,700 passengers with 712 cases (699 recoveries, 12 deaths) were studied; it was a very good learning opportunity, and they took full advantage of it… and, out of it, developed a plan called the three Cs:
They simply bashed that message into everyone’s heads repeatedly, because they understood the nature of transmission of this virus: Avoid all of that, and you’ll be ok. Yes, it’s good to wash your hands and not touch your face and all of that… but that is hugely outweighed by what they understood to be the real risks.
In Japan, some people carry around devices to measure airflow. Any place with a CO2 ppm of more than 1,000 implies poor airflow; stay away and/or get out. Subways are ok if windows are open and passengers wear masks. Sitting diagonally instead of across from someone can reduce the risk of infection by 75%. Well-ventilated movie theaters where people are eating popcorn and drinking Coke? No problem. Lots of other little warnings, some very specific: dinner parties with alcohol… groups of more than four… talking without masks at close quarters… changing rooms… break rooms… dormitories.
Their list of risks was far more detailed, and, therefore, far less restrictive. And, evidently, very effective when respected… and that’s perhaps where the biggest difference comes in… a culture willing to strictly accept certain restrictions. Not the wishy-washy, bend-the-rules, find-the loopholes sort of attitude; actually adhere to it. The long line-ups in Japan weren’t for toilet paper and paper towels and hand sanitizer… they were simply for masks.
On June 19th, the day the Oklahoma Supreme Court rejected a requirement for face masks and social distancing at Trump’s campaign rally in Tulsa, people in Japan were lined up for hours, waiting to purchase the just-released breathable-fabric Uniqlo masks. They sold out almost instantly. The website crashed. Everyone wanted masks.
Japanese people have been wearing masks long before this pandemic. It’s culturally welcomed, accepted, not-frowned-upon and, most of all, clearly understood… so this wasn’t a tough sell. The breakdown of mask-wearing data around the world stops tracking north of 80%… but that’s where Japan is… > 80%. Canada and the U.S… depends what state/province. As low as < 10% in many places, 10-20% in a few. A handful at 40-50%, everyone else… less. You want proof masks are effective? Japan for the win. It’s unfortunate that, culturally, around here, we’re a lot more like the U.S. than Japan… and that’s why our restrictions seem harsh; because anything less, we wouldn’t listen to them. As it is already, we’re not listening enough… I’m not even going to talk about the U.S… where wearing a mask is an affront to personal freedom and all of that absurd bullshit; even around here, everyone listens to the rules and then pats themselves on the back for finding out clever ways around them. “What difference do masks really make?” you ask, rhetorically… well, there’s your not-so-rhetorical answer… a profoundly better situation in every sense… they’ll be back to normal long before us. Arguably, they’re already there. Arguably, they always were. Summary: stick to those three Cs and wear a mask. The only question left to answer is… what to order for dinner tonight… yeah, sushi… of course.
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