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《经济学人》记者手记:日本在疫情中迎来樱花绽放

2020 年 03 月 25 日 • 经济学人,亚洲

经济学人网站【亚洲】板块下这篇题为《Correspondent’s diary: Japan’s cherry blossoms in a time of coronavirus》的记者手记关注的是:日本在疫情中迎来樱花绽放,人们纷纷出门赏樱。疫情下绚烂短暂的樱花带给人们喜悦的同时也象征着生命的脆弱。

The Economist, Asia 2020.

日本 3、4 月间盛开的樱花预示着春天的到来,尽管政府敦促民众尽量避开人群减少感染,但好天气加上三天的周末假期仍吸引不少游人来到公园赏樱。

一个月前日本还是除中国以外世界上新冠肺炎感染人数最多的国家,但自那以后病毒在日本的传播速度急剧放缓。拥有 1,400 万人口的东京仅有 100 多人被感染,2 人死亡。日本全国每百万人中只有 9 人被感染,远低于其他 G7 国家(英国 84 人,意大利 978 人)。

很难明确解释为什么日本能这么快控制住疫情,以下政府措施和文化习惯可能对缓解疫情有帮助。

  • 为防止新冠肺炎疫情扩大,日本政府实施严格的防治措施,如在 2 月 28 日要求所有中小学学校停课(涉及约 1,400 万名学生)。
  • 公众非常爱卫生的习惯。
  • 见面鞠躬致意而非拥抱或握手的文化习惯。

随着疫情在日本逐渐好转,早晨的地铁和周末的酒吧又聚满了人,一些地方的学校也已准备重新开学,也有些人呼吁政府放松对公众集会的限制。

然而文章认为,现在就说日本已度过流感期还为时过早。有专家警告日本仍存在发生“爆发性”流感的可能,日本第二大经济中心——关西地区的感染人数仍在上升。日本人口中有 1/3 是超过 60 岁的老年人,他们更容易受流感病毒的攻击,且只有很少一部分人接受了检测。

2020 东京奥运会延期

日本原本希望借助今年 7 月举办的 2020 东京奥运会激发爱国主义精神,刺激经济恢复,使之成为经历了 2011 年“福岛核泄漏”的国家悲剧之后,日本复兴的象征。但国际奥委会和 2020 年东京奥组委在 3 月 24 日表示,国际奥委会和日本首相安倍晋三已决定,东京 2020 年夏季奥运会必须推迟,且在不迟于 2021 年夏季举行。

疫情爆发前日本经济就已经陷入衰退,2019 年第四季度的年化增长率为 -7.1%。原本预计今年 7-8 月份会有 1,000 万游客前往东京,但东京夏季奥运会的延期,将使本就糟糕的日本经济雪上加霜。

Correspondent’s diary: Japan’s cherry blossoms in a time of coronavirus

Correspondent’s diary
Japan’s cherry blossoms in a time of coronavirus

Hanami parties celebrate the beauty, and fragility, of life
Asia
Mar 22nd 2020

TOKYO

EVERY MARCH and April trees along the banks of the Meguro river in Tokyo fleetingly erupt with fat pink and white cherry blossoms, heralding the arrival of spring. For a few glorious weeks, millions of people across the city flee the drudgery of the office and factory to spend an hour or two in places like this, eating and drinking under falling sakura petals. It is a ritual with ancient roots, with a chapter devoted to it in “The Tale of Genji”, a tenth-century work that is perhaps the world’s first novel.

In this year of coronavirus contagion, however, the prospect of cheek-by-jowl hanami parties has alarmed the authorities. Tokyo’s government has urged people to steer clear of gatherings “that involve food and drink” to slow the spread of infection. To little effect. The happy combination of bright weather and a three-day weekend has sent many flocking to the parks anyway.

Host to the world’s biggest cluster of covid-19 infections outside China barely a month ago, Japan appears dramatically to have slowed its spread since then. Tokyo, a teeming city of nearly 14m people, has recorded a little over 100 cases and just two deaths. Nationwide, there are just nine infections per million people, well behind G7 nations such as Britain (84) and Italy (978).

Nobody seems quite sure why. Apart from sending nearly 14m children home from school, the government largely ducked the draconian measures taken elsewhere. Lofty standards of public hygiene have certainly helped—initial reports of the disease triggered panic-buying and street brawls over hand-sanitisers and surgical facemasks. Even the cultural preference for bowing over hugs and handshakes may be playing a part.

Whatever the reason, complacency about social distancing appears to be settling in. Trains are packed in the mornings and bars are full at the weekends. Schools in some areas are already preparing to re-open and there are calls for a loosening of restrictions on large public events. For some, hanami parties are an act of cheerful public defiance.

Yet it is too early to say that Japan has ridden out the epidemic. The number of infections is rising in Kansai, the nation’s second-largest economic bloc. A team of government experts warned on March 19th that an “explosive” pandemic was still possible. More than a third of the Japanese population is over 60 (the elderly are particularly vulnerable to the flu-like virus) and relatively few have been tested. Indeed, some suspect the government is playing down the scope of the pandemic to avoid upending the Olympics, which are supposed to start in July.

Until this week, the capital has still officially been limbering up for the world’s biggest sporting event. The Olympic torch arrived from Greece on March 20th to a forlorn welcoming ceremony at a military base in northern Japan. More than $12bn has been splurged on preparations—though some estimates suggest the eventual cost will be more than twice that. The city’s successful bid for the Olympics in 2013 rode a wave of patriotism, amid the recovery from the earthquake-tsunami-nuclear disaster of March 2011. The games are something of a legacy project for Abe Shinzo, the prime minister, who is crowning his nearly eight-year run in office. The Olympics were to mark the definitive shedding of the gloom of the country’s post-1980s inertia.

But on Sunday the International Olympic Committee said it was stepping up its “scenario planning” for the games, with delaying them one possibility. Canada became the first country to withdraw its team. So Mr Abe has appeared to bow to the inevitable, telling parliament on Monday that there may be no option but to postpone them. Nearly two-thirds of Japanese voters want him to do just that. Covid-19 has already walloped the economy. Even before the virus arrived, it had contracted by an annualised 7.1% in the last three months of 2019. In its wake, tourism from China and South Korea, sources of most visitors to Japan, has collapsed. Predictions that 10m people would visit Tokyo in July and August now look wildly off. Without that economic bump, recession seems inevitable.

For now, people have shrugged off such concerns and headed to the parks. Depriving Japanese of cherry-blossom parties would be like snatching hugs from Italians, said Koike Yuriko, Tokyo’s governor. Reluctant to ban parties outright, the government has advised people to stroll around and admire the trees from a distance. That sort of hanami party might relieve the stress of living with the modern plague. Cherry blossoms, after all, are a symbol of the fragility of life.

Illustration credit: Dan Williams

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