Probably, in the post-COVID era, we will all advance (some faster and some more slowly) to the hygiene standards that have been used in Japan for a very long time. Such a development is likely to be one of the most important and positive results of our fight against the pandemics, writes Djoomart Otorbaev, Prime Minister of the Kyrgyz Republic in 2014–2015.
Despite the abundance of negative news for mankind in its unprecedented fight against the coronavirus outbreak, it’s critically important is to maintain a positive mood. After all, we will certainly win the battle with the deadly disease. In this article, I would like to touch upon only one topic, but a very relevant one. How could our hygiene standards change after the pandemic is over? As experience in the fight against coronavirus shows, they must be improved.
Today, literally the whole world is actively discussing how to introduce, observe and get used to new hygiene standards. The heads of state and government, pop and sports stars, through all possible information channels, continuously teach us that we need to wash our hands, refrain from touching our faces, refuse to shake hands and abstain from embracing each other. They persuade us to observe basic hygienic rules, for example, touching each other less, washing our hands more often, taking a shower regularly, disinfecting rooms, not touching unwanted objects unnecessarily, etc. But this is almost exactly what our neighbours from the Land of the Rising Sun have been doing for many generations.
Probably, in the post-COVID era, we will all advance (some faster and some more slowly) to the hygiene standards that have been used in Japan for a very long time. Such a development is likely to be one of the most important and positive results of our fight against the pandemic. Is it possible that the coronavirus will teach us to live more correctly? What does that even mean?
First, you need to consider how Japan is responding to the current pandemic crisis and how the disease spread throughout the country. In response to the first outbreak of the pandemic, the government closed schools two weeks before spring break, but schools reopened in most provinces. There are a number of restrictions on entry into the country, for example, prohibiting foreign visitors from high-risk regions, such as the countries of the European Union, North America and China, from entering Japan. Organised public events were limited. In early April, the government introduced a state of emergency in selected prefectures for a period of one month. At the same time, it was stated that a lockdown would not be introduced and citizens were simply asked to voluntarily follow a number of simple rules.
In most other areas of activity, life remained the same. Shops and restaurants remained open, and public transport continued to operate normally. People did not stop going to work at all. In accordance with their unwavering tradition, the Japanese packed into flowering gardens and parks, celebrating the Cherry Blossom Festival. How dramatically all these events differ from those draconian measures that were introduced in most other countries!
Considering that Japan was one of the first countries where the disease was registered, as well as its proximity to China, many believed that the country would have been in a much more difficult epidemiological situation. It should be added that Japan is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, and also ranks first in the world in the number of elderly citizens who are most at risk of dying from Covid-19.
The paradox is that there was no mass outbreak in Japan. As of June 10, only 17,210 people were infected, which is almost 1/30 (!) the figure for Russia. During all this time, only 916 people have died in Japan, which is one seventh the figure for Russia.
From the numerous analyses and graphs showing the dynamics of deaths in different countries throughout the world, one can easily see that the flattest mortality curve and, consequently, the most successful trajectory of deaths was recorded in Japan. And this is despite its extremely high population density and a record number of elderly people in the country.
Many agree that the measures that the Japanese government introduced to combat the disease look, to put it mildly, careless compared to similar measures taken in countries such as Italy, Spain, the United States or Russia. But why, then, are the numbers so low? It comes despite the fact that many, especially international experts, argue that both society and the government are not sufficiently focused on the fight against the disease, and haven’t made enough of an effort to contain the virus.
What do the Japanese do differently from others that allows them to successfully fight the virus? Do they have any secret Even professionals were perplexed with “anomalous” development of the pandemic in Japan: “It’s either they did something right or they didn’t, and we just don’t know about it yet”. Let’s try to understand why the development of the coronavirus pandemic in Japan is so different from its outbreak in many other countries.
In my opinion, the whole point is that what is called a lockdown or social distancing all over the world, in Japan is called the observance of everyday hygiene rules. Parents teach them to children from a very young age. Then the Japanese follow these rules all their lives.
Japan can be called a super-hygienic nation. The usual rule is to wash your hands regularly, many times a day. Daily, and sometimes repeated showering during the day is routine. The Japanese change clothes every day, and sometimes several times a day. When they meet, they do not shake hands, do not hug and do not touch each other. A traditional Japanese bow replaces all of these actions, which in principle are optional. People constantly keep a distance between themselves, and do not come close to each other. When you stand in line waiting for public transport, or in a store, nobody touches you or stands too close to you, and nobody breathes on the back of your head. Compliance with sanitary standards is a cult. For example, escalator handrails in the subway and other public places are required to be treated with special devices located under the escalators which use special disinfectant antibacterial solutions. Across the country, all beautifully equipped, numerous and perfectly clean toilets are free. At the entrance to public places, as a rule, you can treat your hands with disinfectant. People can wash their hands with soap everywhere and at any time. All food in stores is usually hermetically sealed in vacuum bags. If a Japanese does not feel well, he must put on a mask so as not to infect others.
Apparently, the process of getting used to new habits has already begun in many countries at a professional, and even political level. “I think the handshake procedure should not be resumed even when the pandemic is over,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and pandemic adviser to the US Presidential Administration, said in an April 7 interview with the Sunclair Broadcast Group. On this issue, Dr. Fauci already has a very serious ally in the person of President Trump, who also noted that “to limit the spread of infection ... maybe people no longer need to shake hands”.
Many experts agree with their opinions. Among them, for example, is Dr. Gregory Poland, director of the Mayo Clinical Vaccine Research Group and spokesperson for Infectious Diseases Society of America, who claims to put an end to handshakes for nearly three decades. Poland believes that when you shake the hand of another person, you “don’t know” where that hand was. Thus, you expose yourself to “elements of danger”, such as the transfer of various viruses and bacteria.
Under the current lockdown, Russians are beginning to actively switch to the “Japanese” methods of hygiene. A survey conducted on April 2 by the VTsIOM showed that already, 69% of Russians had either stopped shaking hands and embraced less often when they met; on March 30, 62% of citizens behaved this way, and only 45% on March 26. Similar polls in Moscow show that already 77% of residents no longer shake hands and do not hug at meeting; on March 30 and 26, these figures were 73% and 55% respectively. These statistics can be presented as rapid growth.
Perhaps is it precisely these “invisible habits” invented and practiced by the Japanese that are the secret of their nation’s resistance to viral infections? The coronavirus outbreak was not needed by the Japanese to train them to perform hygiene routines. But perhaps the current pandemic will teach many others how to maintain hygiene in the post-Covid era.