Media Mix, May 24, 2020

Here’s this week’s Media Mix about stories in the press that focused on the spread of the coronavirus within households and how people coped with the danger. Much has been written about how Japan dodged a bullet with regard to COVID-19, and while we’re not out of the woods yet, it appears that most of the decisions made by the authorities were good ones. I have nothing profound to add to the argument, but based on what I’ve read and seen it doesn’t seem to be a big mystery. Essentially, the Japanese people did what they were supposed to do—they self-isolated to the best of their abilities until they were told it was safe to come out. Did the government act too late? I think so, but hindsight isn’t very helpful in this case, and comparing Japan’s actions and results to, say, South Korea, which acted sooner, has its problems. I believe that nervousness about the Olympics did affect the authorities’ decision-making. They didn’t really become serious about a possible state of emergency until some countries said they would not send athletes. But in the end they did take action, and the effectiveness of that action was reflected in where the virus was concentrating, i.e., in hospitals and among family members, the two places where it was very difficult to prevent contact between the infected and the non-infected. That tells me that people were doing as they were told, but whether this is due to some inherent virtue of the Japanese people I won’t say. Unlike in the U.S., those who feel unfairly put out by orders to shut down the economy didn’t raise their voices as much. The biggest problem in bringing the disease under control was systemic. As we pointed out in a previous column, Japan was perilously unprepared for the pandemic because of the government’s health service cost-cutting campaign, which has been going on for decades. Many hospitals teetered on the verge of operational collapse, and there were many stories in the media about people desperately trying to get medical attention and who were refused simply because they had to be almost on death’s door before a doctor would see them. Luckily, these cases were minimized thanks to the public’s efforts at social distancing and local public health centers’ individual efforts, which may or may not have had anything to do with central government directives. But the truth of the matter is obvious: Japan did as well as it did because it has universal health care and the government, once it made up its mind, acted in a concerted manner. In that regard, its response wasn’t really that much different than South Korea’s or Taiwan’s or other countries that didn’t see the kind of misery you see in the U.S., which does not have universal health care and where the response was woefully uncoordinated. Japan, of course, is going to suffer economically for quite a while, but a lot of people are alive who otherwise wouldn’t be if different decisions had been made. And obviously, Japan doesn’t need to change its constitution to effectively respond to the next pandemic.

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1 Response to Media Mix, May 24, 2020

  1. Oliver says:

    Thank you for this comment. Very well said, and nothing to add.

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