Under Japan’s coronavirus state of emergency, people have been asked to stay home. Many are not.
Some still have to commute to their jobs despite risks of infection, while others continue to dine out, picnic in parks and crowd into grocery stores with scant regard for social distancing.
On Wednesday, the first day of the “Golden Week” holidays that run through May 5, Tokyo’s leafy Shiba Park was packed with families with small children, day camping in tents.
The lure of heading out for Golden Week holidays is testing the public’s will to unite against a common enemy as health workers warn rising coronavirus cases are overwhelming the medical system in some places.
Experts say a sense of urgency is missing, thanks to mixed messaging from the government and a lack of incentives to stay home.
In this country driven by conformity and consensus, the pandemic is pitting those willing to follow the rules against a sizeable minority who are resisting the calls to stay home.
To get better compliance, the government needs stronger messaging, said Naoya Sekiya, a University of Tokyo professor and expert of social psychology and risk communications.
A tougher lockdown would also help.
The main message has been economy first, safety second: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has insisted Japan will not adopt European-style hard lockdowns that would paralyse the economy.
His economy minister heads the government’s coronavirus task force meetings.
“The message coming from the government is rather mild, apparently trying to convey the need to stay home while prioritising the economy,” Mr Sekiya said.
Prime Minister Abe declared the state of emergency on April 7, as virus cases surged.
It initially covered only Tokyo and six other areas but later expanded to include the whole country.
Tokyo reported 47 newly confirmed cases on Wednesday, with the total across the nation just over 14,000, though limited testing means the number of infections is likely much higher.