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The Coronavirus Sends Asia into a Tailspin


The whole country of Japan has shut down. It is quite amazing to see. One sporting event that the Japanese love is the Koshien High School Baseball Championship. But that has been suspended. It is not clear at this point whether the event will be cancelled, or postponed, or the games held in empty stadiums, or what. The same thing with the Grand Sumo Tournament. The spring session started March 8, but in an empty Osaka Prefectural Arena.

There is no consensus that has emerged in regards to how to deal with the Coronavirus. China has its own plans, as does Japan and Korea. All of the plans seem plausible, but there is little coordination being done, so there is a question as to how effective those actions can be.

China, where the Coronavirus originated, in Wuhan, Hubei Province, has closed down hundreds of factories, and sent home workers. There are reports every day of the same thing happening in Japan, but that is not due to any government directive. When so many Chinese factories are closed, supply chains to Japan are shut off. Television reports show Japanese storage rooms with shelves bare. If the factories have no supply of parts with which to work, production has to be suspended. This shows just one of the ripple effects caused by this epidemic.

Another is a precipitous drop in the price of crude oil. Closed factories in China mean a fall in demand for energy. Consequently, the price of oil has fallen by as much as 25% in some cases.

On television talk shows, there is little but the Coronavirus being discussed. People go on for hour after hour talking about the latest developments. To me it seems like a waste of time. What is the point about repeating the same facts? By now it is clear that it will be some time before the outbreak has run its course. What more will repetition of the facts do?

Of course, the pundits’ jobs are to rehash the facts endlessly. They grope for new angles on the situation. The latest point being examined is the origin of the Coronavirus. There is a consensus that viruses like it invariably originate in the back country of China. Fine. Now what? It would be helpful if an action plan were developed to take control of the situation when the next virus strikes. China has in general been proactive in dealing with the crisis, but this is after 3,000+ deaths have occurred in that country since the start. It surely would be best to take precautions before the flu season begins in the first place. Is no one looking into that? Flu season predictably starts around the same time every year. That should be a clue as to when to initiate precautionary activity.

Some might feel that taking action before the extent of the spread of the disease is known is hasty. This reminds me of the motorist who had a hair-raising scare when negotiating turns on a mountain road. "You should put up a sign there warning people," said the motorist. A resident answered him, "We had a sign up, but there were no accidents, so we took it down." Not taking precautions right before flu season is just as nonsensical.

One serious concern that the Japanese public has is how the Coronavirus will affect the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Things are starting to get into gear with athletes and others connected with the Olympic Games working out the logistics of performing in the event. There is a lot of preliminary planning that has to be done to make sure that everything proceeds smoothly.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has put a date on when the Coronavirus matter must be clarified and the agenda put in place. The Japanese are nothing if not meticulous, and would like to resolve all the pending questions that might have an impact on the Olympics. The IOC date of May 29 for settling all Coronavirus questions seems to give sufficient latitude for dealing satisfactorily with this, but there have been several surprises along the way coming to this point (such as moving the marathon from Tokyo to Sapporo), and there is an underlying feeling of uneasiness in Japan about what the future holds.

Speaking of what might happen from this time forward, for the past weeks the Chinese leadership has been silent as to what it plans to do going forward. Perhaps I have missed something, but here in Tokyo we only get file footage of the leadership, along with rosy reports of actions being taken. It is striking to see Shanghai streets empty of people as evidence of public compliance with efforts to prevent infection, but China has a huge population, and the fear is that contagion could spread much more quickly than imagined.

International airline flights have been cancelled as is to be expected. This shuts down much of the tourist trade here, another mainstay of the Japanese economy. For the last several years, Chinese tourists flocked to Japan. As might be imagined, owners of Japanese resorts, hotels and all sorts of other businesses dependent on Chinese touring consumers have been grateful for that support and are dismayed at the thought of the business that could be lost due to the Coronavirus.

With no end in sight. No one knows how long this will last. That is the really discomforting thought.

Incidentally, in speaking of China, does the reader know how this kanji is pronounced: 北京? Here is a hint. means "north" or "northern" and means "capitol." The word is much in the news here in Japan due to decisions emanating from there. But rather than being pronounced "Beijing," as in the rest of the world, it is still pronounced as it was in the past, as "Pekin," in Japan. No matter that is pronounced "hoku" and as "kyo," so that the combination would actually be "Hokkyo" if proper rules of Japanese pronunciation were used. But the olden pronunciation of "Pekin" still is used in modern Japanese. There are many such remnants of the past to be found in this country.

In the meantime, thousands of passengers on cruise ships are stranded with nowhere to go. It is one thing to be served gourmet meals in one’s cabin, and another to be trapped there with no recourse. That must make such people feel like the passengers in the movie, "Ship of Fools," but of course those people were denied a port of entry because of Nazi diplomatic action. The implication that fascist statecraft is equivalent to a disease is as disturbing as the virus is.

In the United States, Vice President Mike Pence has been assigned to oversee activity to control the disease. However, it is not clear what he might do to aid those efforts. The skills of politicians are of little value in situations like this.

It is no consolation to understand that it is just a matter of time before nature takes its course and the Coronavirus is a spent force. The flu season will be over and gone in just a matter of weeks. The weather will warm up and people will be enjoying the fresh air in the springtime.

But for now that seems a long way in the future. Time drags on if the only thing to think about is illness and the worse.

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