For a long time, Japan was the exception: the Archipelago seemed relatively spared from the spread of the coronavirus. Everything suggests that this perception was falsely reassuring. Cases are now growing alarmingly, particularly in Tokyo, Osaka and Kobé. As of April 16, the death toll was over 9,000 people infected – excluding the 712 of the liner Diamond-Princess – and 179 deaths.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's announcement Thursday, April 16, of a nationwide state of emergency – having done so nine days earlier for only seven of the country's 47 departments country – is seen by many Japanese as a tacit admission by the government of some complacency. This has resulted, over the past few weeks, in the authorities' evasion of their responsibility to take stock of the extent of the contagion before it gets worse.
Nine years after the Fukushima nuclear accident in the aftermath of the March 11, 2011 tsunami, Japan is faced with the same sad fact: human responsibility in two disasters of a different nature. In addition to the responsibilities of the plant managers who, for cost reasons, had not deemed it necessary to protect the reactors further from such a strong surge, were added the untruths of the "nuclear village", bringing together industrialists, academics , elected officials and civil servants defending the atom. The responsibilities were highlighted by the Parliament’s commission of inquiry into the accident. A similar scenario occurs with the coronavirus, estimates the Kiyoshi Kurokawa, who chaired this commission. Again, he argues, bureaucratic inertia in the face of an emergency weighs on crisis management.
These gravities actually played in the chaotic management of the epidemic on board the cruise liner Diamond-Princess, in quarantine in the port of Yokohama. But the slow reaction of the authorities to the epidemic across the Archipelago is above all political. The concern to preserve economic interests, not to affect production, combined with political calculations, postponed the decisions.
"The Olympics came before the health of Tokyo residents"
To avoid compromising his diplomatic ties with China and partially compensate for the contraction in domestic demand, Abe let tens of thousands of Chinese tourists come to Japan until the end of the Lunar New Year in early February. Worse still, for almost three months after the virus first appeared in his Asian neighbors, he harbored the illusion that the Tokyo Olympics would be held in July, giving people the feeling that the situation was under control. This explains the carefree atmosphere of city dwellers during the month of March, when everywhere else in the world, the situation worsened. By insisting on maintaining the Olympic Games, the government de facto minimized the health risk.
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