FUKUOKA -- Train stations, business districts and other areas in some cities in the southwest Japan prefecture of Fukuoka were crowded as usual on the morning of May 12 -- the first day of the third coronavirus state of emergency in the prefecture.
The third state of emergency was expanded on May 12 from the original four prefectures, including Tokyo and Osaka, to also include Fukuoka and Aichi prefectures amid the spread of the coronavirus. Fukuoka has seen the number of new infections surge and the state of medical service systems rapidly worsen, in part due to the spread of virus variants that are said to be highly infectious. The key to curbing infections this time may lie in finding a way to overcome people's lethargy toward countermeasures against the virus that have continued for more than a year.
A typical morning scene was seen at Fukuoka (Tenjin) Station on the Nishitetsu Tenjin-Omuta Line on May 12 as commuters crowded the major train station in Fukuoka's Chuo Ward -- not much different from before the state of emergency declaration.
"Though half of my work days have become remote from May 12 following the declaration, it is difficult to work from home because I need to meet students face-to-face," said a 60-year-old instructor at a vocational college before he rushed to his workplace.
While the number of new infections in the prefecture had been 100 a day or fewer until early April, figures have since surged and marked a record high of 529 on May 9 and 404 on May 11. The number of new cases per 100,000 people in the most recent week marked on May 11 was 56.6, far exceeding the yardstick of 25, which indicates the worst transmission level of "Stage 4" (an explosion of infections) in the 4-point classification created by the Japanese government's coronavirus countermeasures subcommittee. Though the prefectural government has increased the number of hospital beds designated for COVID-19 patients from 770 to 1,007 over the past month, 70.4% of them were occupied as of May 10, meaning the situation has reached a dangerous level.
Fukuoka Gov. Seitaro Hattori told residents during a May 11 news conference, "Whether or not we can contain infections in the future, and the state of Fukuoka in the coming 10 days or two weeks, come down to to our actions today."
Despite the governor's call, on the first day of the state of emergency, a 56-year-old man who lives in the prefectural city of Kasuga said on his way to work, "Maybe because I'm accustomed to this situation, I have this weird confidence that 'I won't get infected.'" He also complained: "Delayed vaccinations, despite Japan being the world's third largest economy, is the central government's failure. And citizens are the ones forced to shoulder a burden."
"Though our company has a system for teleworking, almost everyone comes to the office because our boss said, 'I can assign work to only those who come to the office because I want to talk in person,'" said a 35-year-old woman from the prefectural city of Chikushino who works at a food product vending business. She pointed out, "Reforming people's mindsets is also necessary."
Elsewhere, the prefectural city of Kitakyushu registered a record high of 66 new infections on May 11. Although the city had logged infections at relatively low levels while the cities of Fukuoka and Kurume in the same prefecture were seeing a spread of infections earlier, Kitakyushu has recently been seeing a significant increase in infection figures. A female worker at a convenience store at JR Kokura Station in Kitakyushu's Kokurakita Ward said on the morning of May 12, "The number of people is much fewer than usual." A 40-year-old woman commuting to work skeptically said: "It feels like society, including myself, has become accustomed to it all. Even if the increase in infections were curbed, I guess everyone would just end up being exhausted if the same situation were to be repeated."
(Japanese original by Yusaku Yoshikawa and Shotaro Asano, Kyushu News Department)