Yes, it’s time I write about the coronavirus that is in every news headline as of late. When we first heard about it at the end of December last year, it made news here, albeit international news. News about another country. News that was remote from where we are. Then, in January, there was news that a tour bus guide was diagnosed as having coronavirus. They traced her steps and determined that she and the bus driver got infected when they led a sightseeing tour to a busload of tourists from Wuhan, China. They were the first cases of human to human transmission in Japan. I assumed the patients were from Tokyo, so I was shocked when I found out the next day that the guide returned to her home in Osaka. Ok. That hits too close to home.
In the coming days, we noticed new notices on bulletin boards at the stations and around town about the 新型ウィルス (novel coronavirus) encouraging good sanitary practices like wearing a mask and washing hands. Then we noticed disinfecting hand spray bottles placed at the entrance of buildings. At my Thursday morning Japanese class, the teachers dedicated an hour to discussing the topic, making a point to teach us disease-related terminology. Meanwhile, the news continually highlighted the severity and complexity of the virus with focus on the Diamond Princess cruise ship being quarantined off the Yokohama Port. News reports began criticizing the lack of protocols in place when the Japanese government quarantined the ship.
On February 10th, I received a message from the Japanese teacher saying that the school decided to start spring break early starting that week’s Thursday. My first thought was that the school was over-reacting. Yes, the week prior we had been discussing the outbreak and revisited best practices in limiting exposure, but I didn’t think they would cancel the classes until April. Oh well, looks like an extra 5 weeks of spring break.
On February 13th, I received a message, this time from one of my part-time teaching gigs. The mall that the classroom is located in has implemented a checklist to be filled out and submitted at the end of the work day. It’s a short 5 statements asking if you
- Have a sore throat (um, I’m using my loud teacher voice all day, so that’s a yes!)
- Have a fever over 37°C, but under 37.5°C (sounds like I need to bring a thermometer to work.)
- Have a strong cough.
- Have difficulty breathing.
- Have abdominal pain or diarrhea (a bit personal, no?)
A week later (last week), an official 7 point policy came from my school’s headquarters. We must wear a mask while commuting to work, we must practice correct coughing etiquette and hygiene, we must not travel to China, and if your fever of 37.5°C or higher has lasted for more than 4 days, please refrain from going to work. So, I guess if I’m only on day 2 of a high fever, I should still work? It’s hard not to get cynical at times.
2 days ago, I got a call from Yamaha Piano stating that all classes are canceled for 2 weeks. Before the end of the 2 weeks, we’ll get notification as to whether the recess will be extended or not. That was a little of a surprise, but it made me feel that the students’ health and well being were priority, so I felt their decision was made out of an abundance of caution. Then last night, we find out that Prime Minister Abe has recommended that all public schools be cancelled until the new school year in April. Hearing and reading those words came as a shock. I belong to a few ex-pat community Facebook groups and those sights were blowing up with fear, anger, panic and blame. I went to Zachary’s school website and saw that schools in Osaka will close from Saturday, Feb 29 for 2 weeks, until at least March 14th. Which means if school were to resume on March 16th, Zachary would go back for a week of school and then go on spring break until the new school year starts on April 8th.
As for Jack, it’s a little more complicated. PM Abe asked that kindergartens remain open so that parents can work. It is up to each municipality to decide. Tomorrow is Jack’s end of the year sports festival just for the soon-to-be graduates. Next Wednesday is the birthday party for all kids born in March (Jack’s birth month), and March 14th is his kindergarten graduation. I’ll know more when I pick him up in an hour, but I think he’ll be crushed to learn if they are all canceled.
It’s definitely strange being here, in the midst of the outbreak. It’s mentally draining when I tune into the news; there’s a sense of panic. But when I’m out and about, life goes on and I forget about COVID-19. I still only remember to wear a mask on occasion, but never pass up a disinfecting spray bottle. I’ve noticed every government employee wears a mask and doesn’t take it off when speaking. I’ve noticed the trains are less packed. Tourism is down. The security guard at one of Michael’s buildings uses a thermometer gun before letting them enter. My hope is now that these protocols are in place, it will slow transmission to where we can return to our normal lives in the not to far future. I like the CDC gif that’s going around: Keep calm and wash your hands. That’s all we can do.
An eerily empty Kyoto Station