Lessons from Hokkaido Island to the World: Lifting Restrictions is Very Dangerous
The region acted quickly and contained the initial outbreak with a three-week quarantine. But when restrictions were lifted, a second wave hit even harder.
April 30, 2020
Translated and edited by Walter Lippmann for CubaNews.
Masked passers-by in Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan, on February 26, 2020 Photo: Reuters
The island of Hokkaido in northern Japan is experiencing a second wave of coronavirus infections and deaths, which experts say could have been avoided if the state of emergency had not been lifted too soon. Their experience offers a grim lesson for the next phase of the battle against covid-19, TIME reports.
The region acted quickly and contained the initial SARS-CoV-2 outbreak with a three-week quarantine. But when local authorities lifted restrictions, a second wave of infection hit even harder: less than four weeks later, the island was forced to re-implement the blockade.
Hokkaido reported 38 new cases on Tuesday, bringing its total number of infections to 688, the fifth highest in Japan. Simultaneously, one person died from the virus, bringing the number of deaths on the island to 27.
Chitose Airport, Hokkaido, Japan Photo: Reuters
Thus, the island, which was seen as something of a success story for the way it worked to contain, track and isolate the virus, is once again in the spotlight as it struggles to cope with the second wave of contagion.
In late February, Hokkaido became the first place in Japan to declare a state of emergency for covid-19. Schools were closed, large-scale meetings were canceled and people were advised to stay home. The local government pursued the virus with determination, isolating anyone who had had contact with those infected.
The strategy apparently worked, and by mid-March, the number of new cases had been reduced to one or two per day. On 19 March, the state of emergency was lifted and schools were reopened in early April. But only 26 days after the state of emergency was lifted, a new one had to be imposed.
It should be noted that Hokkaido has acted independently of the central Government, which only last week placed Tokyo, Osaka and five other prefectures in a state of emergency.
Lifting the restrictions “is very dangerous”.
“Now I regret that we should not have lifted the first state of emergency,” Kiyoshi Nagase, president of the Hokkaido Medical Association, told TIME. “It really won’t be until next year that we can safely lift these blockades.
Experts say the restrictions on the island were lifted too quickly and too soon because of pressure from local businesses, along with a false sense of security about the declining infection rate.
According to Kazuto Suzuki, a professor at Hokkaido University, the example of the island “shows that what is happening in the U.S.,” where some governors are lifting restrictions, “is very dangerous.
“That’s what we know now: even if you control the first wave, you can’t relax,” Suzuki concluded.