Japan could be at high risk
Since the first case of coronavirus was confirmed in Japan in mid-January, health officials have assured the public that their first containment measures have prevented the virus from spiraling out of control. The country of almost 127 million people has reported only 1,300 cases and 45 deaths.
But that tone has changed. On Thursday, Japan's health minister, Katsunobu Kato, warned of evidence that Japan now had a high risk of rampant infection.
Cases have skyrocketed in Tokyo, setting records for four consecutive days, and more locations have told residents to avoid nonessential exits. On Tuesday, the Tokyo Olympics were delayed by a year.
But the public has yet to take officials' warnings seriously. Although the schools have been closed for a month and major events have been canceled, life has returned to normal. People gather in parks, travel by subway and go out to eat. And the evidence is still limited, raising fears about the full extent of virus progression across the country.
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Jeffrey Gettleman, our head of the New Delhi office, has been covering Prime Minister Narendra Modi's confinement of India's 1.3 billion people. I spoke to him about the unanswered questions in the general government guidelines and what we can expect next.
Guide us through the pre-closing period. On the ground, were you surprised that people seemed to stay home right away and follow the rules?
There had been a steady increase in restrictions in India. So the blockade Modi announced for the entire government was quite consistent with what was already happening in some places, including New Delhi.
India has strong internal control by its security forces. Police forces are used to control the population. People tend to be afraid of police officers on the street and want to get out of their way. They treat citizens quite harshly.
The government here is trying to learn from the mistakes or the slowness of what happened in other countries. They saw what happened in China and how effective the locks were once they were implemented, that's more their model than anything else.
The number of cases in India remains relatively low. around 600 confirmed infections What is the big concern when the number grows?
The country spends very little on health care per capita. So the health care system here doesn't have enough funds, and it's a huge population, 1.3 billion people. Public hospitals, the number of doctors, the number of beds, the equipment they use – everything is below the standards of most other parts of the world.
Some of the best hospitals in the world are really struggling. So imagine how a hospital with far fewer resources would respond.
You have written about what this means for the poor in India and for informal workers who could live by word of mouth or paycheck. Can it be expanded?
They can endure a few days without work. Can they last a few weeks or a few months?
Informal workers cannot get to their workplaces. Factories have been closed, public transportation has been closed. There are thousands upon thousands of people who make money as rickshaw drivers, who support their families by doing that.
There has been talk of giving them cash subsidies. There has been talk of putting pressure on landlords or asking landlords not to demand rent from poor people at the time, which has yet to be enacted.
There will be a cost. In a place where people live face to face, the enormous economic costs can lead to many other problems: health problems, malnutrition.
Are we finding out more about how people are going to access essential services exempt from the blockade?
They have not explained it very clearly. The gist of this is that you can go to your nearest pharmacy or food source, and because India is so densely populated, those places are everywhere. So people walk to those areas.
There has been some confusion, and some pharmacies and grocery stores have been closed. Therefore, there is confusion about how these rules are applied. Some journalists have been beaten because the police said they were not allowed to travel. But it explicitly says that if you are a medium, you are exempt from the rules.
What are we waiting for next?
The big question is how much, if any, community transmission is taking place. If the disease begins to spread from person to person from people who had no connection to the outside, that's really scary.
These neighborhoods are some of the most densely populated parts of the world, countless apartment blocks squeeze in close to each other, with narrow streets between them and open sewage running alongside the sidewalk and people together, mile after mile .
And then another part of this is: India is trying to do what no one else has done, bring out the unprecedented, which is to stop the virus on its way. No other population has managed to do that. It will be really interesting if they can do it.
That's it for this briefing. Until next time.
Mark Josephson, Chris Harcum and Eleanor Stanford for the break from the news. You can contact the team at [email protected]
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