[Special column]The COVID-19 Crisis

ビルボード誌 アジア支局長 Rob Schwartz(ロブ シュワルツ)さんがいま気になるエンターテイメントや音楽、テクノロジーに関する話題を取り上げていく本コラム。今回は特別寄稿として「The COVID-19 Crisis」をテーマにお送りいたします。(本連載は、全編英語でお届けします)

The COVID-19 crisis is what's on everyone's mind all around the world right now. Indeed, most of us have never experienced a world health crisis like this in our lifetimes. Though MERS and SARS both were epidemics, they were minor compared to the worldwide spread of COVID-19. The only historical precedent is the Spanish Flu of 1918-1920, when almost all of the people living now had yet to be born. That horrible disease killed between 17 and 50 million people. Of course medical facilities and communications were not as advanced then. I don't expect this crisis will be anything like that one, and major steps are being taken to address it.

People in Japan have been taking precautions for a while now and the crisis doesn't seem to be worsening here. In fact, Japan seems to be on the same cycle as China, though of course it never got nearly as bad here as parts of that country. But the cycles seem to match. China is now recovering from the crisis. Emergency hospitals in Wuhan have closed because they are not needed. Japan had an increase in infections a few weeks ago but things seem to be slowing down now. And Japan never had a big boom in cases like China, Italy or Korea. Why is that?

I would say that the reason centers around the innate cautiousness of Japanese people, the ability to follow instructions and some customs here. In general Japanese are quite cautious and avoid risk. This has served them well in COVID-19 crisis. People are told to wash their hands frequently, avoid close contact with others, use hand sanitizer and wear masks. And pretty much everyone does all those things without fail. Of course it helps that wearing masks was already a Japanese custom and people were doing in even before COVID-19. The measures are effective and the virus has slowed considerably in Japan.

But this contrasts very heavily with other parts of the world. Let's take the West, Europe and North America. To some extent people are averse to following instructions. For one, they view authority with deep suspicion. But people, in general, are just not good at following instructions. If the general populace is told to wash their hands, a large percentage of them will not do it. Why? It may be rebellion in some cases but I think it's just carelessness or apathy in others. It's hard to say how much this has played a role in the explosion of the virus in Italy and even the USA, but I believe it has been a factor. People now are starting to take the advice of experts and health officials seriously since the virus has been spreading rapidly.

In the West, particularly in the USA and Britain, there is a raging debate in certain sectors of the public about the nature of this crisis. The mainstream view is that it is a real crisis, all the measures that have been taken, like closing down professional sports leagues, are justified and the precautions are reasonable. But others feel the entire crisis is a media hoax. They point to seasonal deaths for the regular flu, which are much higher than COVID-19 so far, and note that the media doesn't whip people into a frenzy about that. They urge people to stay calm and ignore the media.

While half that advice is good, staying calm and rational is crucial, the naysayers about the COVID-19 crisis miss some important points. The virus is far more infectious than the average flu, that why the WHO declared it a pandemic. The risk of it spreading throughout the populace is much greater. And in addition the mortality rate from COVID-19 is higher than the normal flu. The normal flu kills about 0.1 to 0.2 percent of the people who contract it, but COVID-19 the rate is 2-4%. As you can see this is a massive difference. These factors justify the wide-sweeping measures taken across nations to stem the spread of the virus.

For now Japan seems to be winning the battle, let's hope countries like Italy, Spain, Britain and the USA can as well. Following the advice of health officials in crucial. And stay calm.