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How to reduce physical contact with others by 80%: Japan medical experts

People are seen wearing masks amid the spread of the novel coronavirus, in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward on March 30, 2020. (Mainichi/Shinnosuke Kyan)

TOKYO -- The Japanese government is asking the seven prefectures placed under a state of emergency amid the coronavirus pandemic, including Tokyo, Osaka, and Fukuoka, to reduce the amount of physical contact among people by 80%. Experts say that if physical contact can be cut back by such a level, the increase in infections will slow down, which can help in avoiding a prolonged state of containment measures. However, many people are unsure what to do specifically to minimize their contact with others.

    The central government issued a state of emergency declaration that is scheduled to last for around one month with the assumption that physical contact among people will be reduced by 80%. If this target is achieved, a sharp decline in the number of infected people will be seen after two weeks, according to an estimate made by Dr. Hiroshi Nishiura, a theoretical epidemiologist at Hokkaido University.

    For those wondering what kind of cases fall under "physical contact," public health professor Dr. Koji Wada of the International University of Health and Welfare defines contact as being within "a distance where people can touch each other if they extend their arms; more specifically, having someone within 2 meters of you." If you maintain a distance of 2 meters or more when talking with others indoors, you have succeeded in avoiding "physical contact." Dr. Wada recommends taking one or two steps back from your normal position when conversing with others.

    Although it is quite difficult to maintain a distance of 2 meters or more with others at all times, there are various other ways to avoid contact. For example, you can arrange to meet in pairs instead of large gatherings, or go out for lunch alone instead of going in groups of four or five. When shopping for groceries, one family member can go out by themselves so that the other family members can stay at home and thus avoid contact with others. On the other hand, it should be noted that even if you reduce the amount of time you are together with someone, like shortening a 10-minute conversation to 2 minutes, it will not count toward avoiding physical contact.

    Companies are also taking actions to achieve an 80% decrease in contact. Ricoh Japan Corp., a distributor for Ricoh electronic products based in Tokyo's Minato Ward, put forth a plan that instructs employees that work or live in regions placed under the state of emergency to do their jobs from home. Ricoh Japan is limiting the number of workers that come to the office to the absolute minimum needed to sustain its business and respond to clients that offer essential services, such as medical institutions and government agencies. The company has set a goal of reducing the number of workers showing up to the office to 20% of its total number of workers.

    Dr. Nishiura of Hokkaido University suggests that companies take active measures such as assigning which four out of five days an employee works from home.

    As the coronavirus infection grows, other regions throughout Japan may be subject to a state of emergency declaration as well. Public health professor Dr. Wada advises that companies prepare for continuing business while considering the possibility of reducing their staff numbers by 50 to 80%.

    (Japanese original by Sooryeon Kim, Lifestyle and Medical News Department)

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