As a young person, probably in my late teens, I became somewhat obsessed with epidemiology and read voraciously about viruses, the CDC and Ebola, in particular. The Hot Zone, Virus X and The Coming Plague still sit on the shelf in our study. I feel like I have been waiting for the Coronavirus, without knowing its name or form, for nearly 30 years. I watch the numbers with interest, not really with fear and am flabbergasted by the reaction of some people to what would appear to be, for 99% of the population, little more than a seasonal flu or the common cold.
At the end of 2010 I was diagnosed with MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) the “super bug” that infects 94,000 people, globally, every year, with 19,000 deaths. I was taking 96 antibiotics a day and had to have a minor surgery, but made a full recovery, with no complications. A few years back I had Influenza A and spent 13 weeks in bed feeling like death warmed over. It was a tricky bug that saw many secondary infections, but again, no complications. For many people, the Coronavirus will probably look similar. Flu like symptoms and potentially a recurring role in the line up of yearly seasonal infections that sadly can impact vulnerable members of the population.
So, to travel or not to travel, that is the question… Super Sake Boy and I have a trip to Japan booked from mid-April until early May. We have been really looking forward to an adult only, sake heavy itinerary and we are VERY reticent to postpone or cancel our plans. We have plans to meet up with friends and we have organised visits to breweries which are not generally open to the public. We have tickets to teamlab Borderless and are booked in to do an omurice cooking class in Kyoto.
Japan has responded to the Coronavirus quite rigourously, closing schools, Disneyland and all museums and art galleries (including teamlab Borderless), at this stage, until March 15, with schools closed until the beginning of the next school year, which is the second week of April. Spring vacation has been extended by almost a month, a development that my Japanese friend’s children are not too disappointed about. Excluding the people from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, the infection rate in Japan has been very low, especially when you consider the population. Having seen the level of consideration that most Japanese people give to the rest of the population, I would put this down to several factors, including sick people wearing face masks, so they are not sneezing infected droplets everywhere, and good hygiene in general. Most Japanese people carry their own personal hand towel for drying their hands after washing, and most Japanese toilets are self cleaning. There is a high level of awareness surrounding personal responsibility for keeping your germs to yourself, as well as everything else, as everyone lives in such close quarters.
Weighing up our options of whether or not to continue with our plans has been an interesting exercise unto itself. People in Australia have seriously gone a bit cuckoo over the impending pandemic, with many sane people stockpiling necessities like toilet paper, rice, flour and pasta. Our supermarket has had the shelves stripped of these products, and I believe it is the same, or similar in most parts of Australia. This panic is clearly more contagious than COVID-19 (the current strain of Coronavirus). Even when you are informed and not overly panicked, the hysteria is difficult to remain completely removed from. When you accompany this with the media’s tendency toward sensationalistic journalism, in general, it collides to create a national panic, unlike anything I have ever witnessed.
We will, however, not be influenced by this panic. Our intention is to go to Japan, and to be honest, having been many times before, I have little doubt that Japan is one of the safest places to be in the World, at the moment. We booked at this particular time of the year so as to be between cherry blossom, beautiful and crazy, busy and experienced twice before, and Golden Week, the longest public holiday period in the Japanese calendar, and a time many Japanese travel, internally, so also crazy, busy, as it will be less busy. The Coronavirus may prove to increase the potential for places to be less busy. Imagine being at Kinkaku-Ji or Kiyomizu-dera or even Gion without the hoards of tourists…
Hopefully our risk management and our practical and rational sensibility is not met with a couple of weeks in a Japanese hospital? (I imagine the food is pretty good??? Anyone have experience?) I would also not like to be unable to return to Australia, as all our children will be here and that would not be a suitable outcome. So, please, follow our adventures while we are travelling, I will be posting everyday, and despite all of the circumstances, can not wait to be back in Japan.
The feature image map is credited to the BBC website and was created by the World Health Organisation on 4th March, 2020.