Why COVID keeps being seen as a “foreign” disease in Japan: Uncritical reportage in the Mainichi of Shizuoka Mayor blaming Omicron on “foreign nationals at work”, claiming it’s not “community transmission”. Wait, let’s parse that.

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Hi Blog. Debito.org has talked about how Japanese officialdom keeps trying to construe COVID as something “foreign”, i.e., something exogenous that affects foreigners more than Japanese people (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, herehere, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here for example).  To the point where there’s even a research institute (Riken) speculating that Japanese are genetically less susceptible to COVID.  Seriously.

And that unscientific attitude is reflected in Japanese government policy that treats anyone with a Japanese passport as somehow less contagious than somebody with a foreign passport, regardless of individual vaccination status. (That of course means that a porous border and more lax quarantine rules for VIPs and “Japanese” entrants — including those without Japanese citizenship but WITH Japanese blood — get in and spread the disease anyway.  Omicron is in Japan to stay, brought in by Japanese, no matter how much you’re trying to blame it on, for example, the US Military.)

It’s gotten to the point where even the WHO has decried these policies as unscientific:

(Kyodo News Dec 2, 2021):  Michael Ryan, head of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Program, said of Japan’s ban on new entries of foreigners, “Epidemiologically, I find it hard to understand the principle there. Does the virus read your passport? Does the virus know your nationality or where you are legally resident?  Our concern here is that we apply public health principles, not political principles, to selecting measures that are used to control the spread of diseases. The idea that you can put a hermetic seal on most countries is frankly not possible.”

But one other factor in all this gaijin-bashing is an uncritical media, even from foreigner-friendly media outlets like the Mainichi Shinbun. Where they report unconfirmed statements from a local mayor that people had contact “with foreign nationals” (“kaigai no hito“, or “overseas people” in the original Japanese), and scare the public all over again.

Article follows, then my comment:

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Central Japan prefecture’s 1st omicron case linked to contact with foreigners at job: mayor
December 28, 2021 (Mainichi Japan), courtesy of JK
https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20211228/p2a/00m/0na/004000c

SHIZUOKA — Following the first confirmed coronavirus omicron variant case in the central Japan city of Shizuoka in Shizuoka Prefecture on Dec. 27, Mayor Nobuhiro Tanabe said at a press conference, “He (the patient) is confirmed to have had contact with foreign nationals at work, and community transmission is unlikely.”

According to the Shizuoka Municipal Government, the patient was earlier confirmed infected with the coronavirus and has mild symptoms. Genome analysis by the National Institute of Infectious Diseases revealed he was positive for the omicron variant. Two people who had had close contact with the man tested negative for the virus.

The patient has no recent history of overseas travel, and came into contact with foreign nationals at work. The city’s public health center explained that it determined the route of infection was strongly suspected to have been via contact at work.

The man received his second coronavirus vaccine by August. He developed symptoms on Dec. 23, was tested the following day, and hospitalized on Dec. 25. He was confirmed positive for the omicron variant the next day.

Other than the two people deemed close contacts, 12 of the 13 people involved in the same work tested negative. One still awaits their results.

(Japanese original by Hideyuki Yamada, Shizuoka Bureau)

静岡市でオミクロン株初確認 海外から来た人と接触 市中感染は否定的
毎日新聞 2021/12/27
https://mainichi.jp/articles/20211227/k00/00m/040/344000c
新型コロナウイルス感染症の変異株・オミクロン株への静岡県内初感染が静岡市で確認された27日、田辺信宏市長は記者会見で「業務上、海外の人と接点が確認されている。市中感染の可能性は低い」と説明した。患者は男性で軽症、市保健所で感染経路を調べている。
市によると、男性は新型コロナの感染が既に確認されていた。国立感染症研究所のゲノム解析でオミクロン株陽性と判明。濃厚接触者2人は陰性だった。
男性患者は海外渡航歴はなく、海外から来た人と業務で接触があった。市保健所は感染経路について「業務上の接触の方を強く疑う状況と判断している」と説明。8月までにワクチンの2回目接種を終えていた。23日に発症、24日に検査を受け、25日に入院。26日にオミクロン株の陽性と分かった。
濃厚接触者以外の仕事関係者13人のうち12人の陰性を確認。1人は検査結果を待っている。【山田英之】

ENDS

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COMMENT: A few more simple questions needed to be asked of Mr. Mayor before his speculation got passed through by the Mainichi editors, and allowed to filter into the public sphere:

  • Were these “overseas people” freshly-arrived in Japan from overseas despite a near-blanket ban on any foreigners at the border?
  • Were these “overseas people” in fact foreign residents who were here anyway, therefore those people are in fact part of “the community” (meaning, yes, “community transmission”).
  • Is there any evidence that these individual “overseas people” were in fact COVID-positive? Were they tested? Was there any other vector testing of other people in the community? Or are we just simply assuming that foreigners are more likely than Japanese to have COVID and leaving it at that?

We should know.  But we don’t.  Why not?  Because the constant and uncritical assumptions that foreigners a) are vectors, and b) are not part of the “Japanese community” at large anyway, are precisely what I mean when I refer to Japan’s Embedded Racism. Presumptions like these are so normalized as to be embedded and unquestioned in Japan, even by media professionals who are supposed to be asking these questions before they let these racist ideas infect and spread throughout society.  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

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2 comments on “Why COVID keeps being seen as a “foreign” disease in Japan: Uncritical reportage in the Mainichi of Shizuoka Mayor blaming Omicron on “foreign nationals at work”, claiming it’s not “community transmission”. Wait, let’s parse that.

  • Kyodo News article of Dec 2, 2021 full text:

    Japan drops blanket halt of inbound flight bookings after criticism
    KYODO NEWS – Dec 2, 2021
    https://english.kyodonews.net/news/2021/12/28670f8f00db-urgent-kishida-hints-at-review-of-japans-re-entry-restrictions-over-omicron.html

    The Japanese government on Thursday reversed its decision to completely halt bookings for inbound flights until the end of the year in the wake of criticism that the measure against the Omicron variant of the coronavirus goes too far.

    Prime Minister Fumio Kishida admitted the transport ministry’s announcement the previous day had caused confusion, telling reporters he instructed officials to “adequately take into account” people’s wishes to travel home.

    Under the measure, Japanese citizens and foreign residents would have been unable to return for the holidays unless they already had reservations.

    The government’s top spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, told a press conference the ministry has withdrawn its request to airlines not to take any bookings for inbound flights.

    Following the move, All Nippon Airways Co. and Japan Airlines Co. said they are preparing to take some reservations.

    Bookings will be allowed within the government’s daily cap of 3,500 people arriving from overseas, with Matsuno saying there will be no difference in priority between Japanese citizens and foreign residents.

    Neither Kishida nor transport minister Tetsuo Saito had been consulted before the ministry’s Civil Aviation Bureau issued the request on Monday and triggered a backlash from people suddenly faced with the prospect of spending weeks unable to go home.

    Matsuno, meanwhile, said the government will consider shortening the eight-month period between a person receiving their second COVID-19 vaccine shot and becoming eligible for a booster shot “based on changes in the infection situation, preparations by local authorities and vaccine supply.”

    Booster shots began being administered to medical personnel on Wednesday, with the rest of the population set to get them next year.

    The Omicron variant has a large number of mutations, and scientists fear it may be more transmissible than previous strains of the coronavirus or be able to evade immunity provided by vaccines.

    The World Health Organization has designated it a “variant of concern,” warning it is likely to spread globally and presents a “very high” risk.

    Japan has so far confirmed two cases of the Omicron variant, and Kishida has moved swiftly to prevent its further introduction from overseas, banning new entries of foreigners and beefing up quarantine rules on Japanese citizens and foreign residents returning from countries feared to have outbreaks, including South Africa, which first reported the discovery of the strain last week.

    But the measures have also been criticized by some as being discriminatory.

    The WHO has urged countries not to impose blanket travel bans, saying they are ineffective in preventing the coronavirus from spreading and place a heavy burden on people’s lives.

    Michael Ryan, head of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Program, said of Japan’s ban on new entries of foreigners, “Epidemiologically, I find it hard to understand the principle there. Does the virus read your passport? Does the virus know your nationality or where you are legally resident?”

    “Our concern here is that we apply public health principles, not political principles, to selecting measures that are used to control the spread of diseases,” Ryan said at a press conference Wednesday. “The idea that you can put a hermetic seal on most countries is frankly not possible.”
    ENDS

  • It’s gotten to the point where even the WHO has decried these policies as unscientific

    Heck, it’s gotten to the point where even Wajin have decried these policies as unscientific:

    Even from a public health viewpoint, I don’t think there’s any point in differentiating how individuals are treated based on nationality. Upholding a blanket entry ban on foreign nationals may aggravate xenophobic sentiments within Japan.

    Japan’s COVID border restrictions keeping families apart, affecting relationships: group

    「コロナ入国制限緩和を」1.2万筆 外国籍家族と離別・離婚まで

    Japan’s COVID border restrictions keeping families apart, affecting relationships: group
    January 10, 2022 (Mainichi Japan)
    PHOTO: This photo provided by Melek Ortabasi shows a group behind a petition demanding a review of Japan’s border control measures submitting the signatures and a written request to a Japanese Foreign Ministry official, left, on Jan. 6, 2022.
    PHOTO: Members of a group that submitted a petition demanding that the Japanese government ease border restrictions attend an online press conference on Jan. 6, 2022, as seen in this image taken from web conferencing service Zoom.

    TOKYO — Amid severe restrictions on new entries by foreign nationals to Japan introduced in November 2021 following confirmation of the coronavirus’s omicron variant in the country, numerous cases have been reported of both foreign residents of Japan and Japanese citizens being separated from non-Japanese family.

    A group in Japan led by people separated from overseas family members by Japan’s current pandemic border restrictions submitted a petition on Jan. 6 with about 12,000 signatures demanding the government relax the controls. The group launched the signature drive on Change.org in early December. The signatures along with a written request were addressed to Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi.

    The petition’s specific demands included that the government restore visas that were suspended despite being issued prior to the controls, review regulations on exceptional entry cases, and clearly specify the time frame for resuming new visa applications.

    Why did the group decide to take this action? After the outbreak of the pandemic in 2020, the Japanese government banned new entries by foreign nationals in principle, except for spouses and children of Japanese nationals and permanent residents, residency status holders, and exceptions on humanitarian and other special grounds. But the latest restrictions even ban spouses of Japanese citizens from coming in if they do not have a long-term residency eligibility certificate. Short-term visas issued before the new border restrictions were imposed have also been invalidated, leaving many unable to get into the country.

    The group held an online press conference after submitting the petition. Melek Ortabasi, a 51-year-old Japanese literature researcher at Kanagawa University, has not seen her three sons in her home country of Canada since October 2021. After repeatedly petitioning the Japanese government, saying she has “circumstances necessitating an urgent reunion,” visas for her sons were issued in late December.

    “I was exhausted these past few months,” Ortabasi said at the press conference. “I wouldn’t want anyone to experience this, and would like more people to know about this situation.”

    Although Ortabasi’s sons ultimately got visas as an exceptional case, visa application screenings have in general grown stricter. Applications are not accepted unless family members are in critical conditions or for other “consequential crises on humanitarian grounds.”

    Isami Sawai, a research fellow at the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, who is familiar with the entry requirements for foreigners, also signed the petition. He commented at the press conference, “Even from a public health viewpoint, I don’t think there’s any point in differentiating how individuals are treated based on nationality.” He added, “Upholding a blanket entry ban on foreign nationals may aggravate xenophobic sentiments within Japan.”

    According to a survey conducted by the group, 160 respondents answered that they “suffered mental or physical damage” from the prolonged, enforced time apart from family and other reasons. There were reportedly even cases that ended in divorce.

    Artist Takashi Arai, 43, who attended the news conference, has a German wife who planned to visit Japan in December 2021 and has been continuously barred from the country. He said more than once, “It’s not that we want the border restrictions to be completely lifted,” but he also pointed to the struggles of those impacted by the controls who are “stuck waiting, without any relief, explanations or information.”

    Arai said, “Meanwhile, there have been many problems, while Japan’s image overseas has gotten worse,” and called for improvements to the situation.

    And even as most foreign nationals are being kept out of Japan, U.S. military personnel have spread the virus around bases in Japan after arriving without having taken coronavirus tests. Touching on this, Arai commented, “This is an issue related to border control and anti-infection measures under the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement, and cannot be regarded in the same way as our cases. But I honestly feel conflicted about it.”

    (Japanese original by Motomi Kusakabe, Foreign News Department)

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