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  • GOJ shuts down NJ academic conference at Josai University due to Swine Flu

    Posted by arudou debito on May 14th, 2009

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    Hi Blog.  Turning the keyboard over to a friend who wishes to remain anonymous.  Debito

    ===============================================
    Dear Debito,

    I’m an avid reader of your blog — thanks for all your hard work! I thought I’d pass this information along to you in the event you are hearing about similar cases.

    A friend of mine was supposed to come to Tokyo from the U.S. for an academic conference next week. There would be around 800 mostly North American participants — good business for hotels and lots of tourism money in general in these tough economic times. Last week, the GOJ started pressuring the host university to cancel the conference. The host, Josai University, managed to negotiate the following conditions to have the conference:

    1. Detailed location/contact info for participants during conference and 10 days after
    2. Temperature taken every day of the conference; those with 100.4 F given additional test and possibly quarantined
    3. Fill out health declaration every day
    4. Wear masks every day
    5. Participants are required to pay all quarantine and medical costs

    Needless to say, many did not want to attend under these strict conditions, and the conference ended up being canceled:

    http://web.mac.com/leslielemond/SCMS@50-Tokyo/Welcome.html

    So the GOJ in the end got its desired result.

    Anyway, while I think that of course diligence is required in containing the flu epidemic, I find it a little disconcerting that the GOJ is coming down so strictly on NJs, especially in academic activities. I’m not even sure how legal it is for the GOJ to dictate terms and conditions of their private conference.

    Perhaps this one case isn’t worth mentioning, (or perhaps I’m just upset because now I don’t get to see my friend!!) but if many things like this start to happen, it might be worth examining.

    ENDS

    =========================================

    URGENT — SCMS CONFERENCE CANCELLATION

    Dear Colleagues:

    It is with a very great regret that we are announcing the cancellation of the SCMS conference in Tokyo scheduled for May 21-24, 2009.

    Late last week we learned that the Government of Japan and the Chiyoda District Government had requested that Josai International University cancel the conference due to concerns about containing the H1N1 (“Swine Flu”) virus.  That request, and the conditions that were subsequently imposed under which the conference might occur, resulted in daily discussions among the officers of SCMS, members of the Board of Directors, the Society’s legal counsel, and representatives of Josai.

    We have determined that proceeding with the conference under the conditions ordered by the government presents too many risks for our members and the Society.  These include the personal risks to individual members (including possible quarantine, additional expense, and considerable stress), potential liability to SCMS, as well as pressures on the Society’s small infrastructure.  Moreover, the survey conducted yesterday (564 of 748 registrants replied) indicated that almost one-third of those responding chose to withdraw from the conference.  Many of those who said that they would still attend indicated that they would do so out of a sense of obligation or said that they would spend minimal time at the conference.  It was also clear that some registrants who did not respond to the survey, but who communicated in other ways, were waiting for more information before making a decision.

    We are extremely grateful for the efforts of JIU, on behalf of SCMS, for negotiating with the national and local governments to create conditions under which the conference could move forward.  But it is clear that members felt that those conditions would not be conducive to a satisfactory conference experience.  The high cancellation rate – with more likely – presented us with a depleted program rather than the robust intellectual and social experience our members have come to expect of the SCMS conference.

    1.     You are urged to cancel your hotel reservations and flights immediately, unless you plan to travel to Japan for pleasure.  You should contact your airline to arrange for credit on your airfare.  We will be working with Japan Travel Bureau to reduce or eliminate hotel cancellation penalties.

    2.     Conference fees will be refunded, or individuals may request that their registration fee be used for the 2010 conference in Los Angeles.  More details will follow.

    3.     We are working on plans to retain as much of the Tokyo conference as possible as a part of our Los Angeles conference.  We will provide more information as soon as possible.   

    4.     We will be creating a forum on the SCMS website for individuals to register their comments.

    5.     If you have already arrived in Japan and need assistance, please contact the SCMS office staff as soon as possible.  Others can expect their e-mail messages and phone calls to be answered in the order that are received as soon as the staff can respond.

    This has been a severe trial for the SCMS leadership, and we realize that the uncertainty caused by this global health situation has created great confusion and anxiety among our members.

    We are extremely disappointed that we have had to make this decision, especially in light of the tremendous amount of planning and work that our members, the SCMS staff, and our exhibitors committed to this conference.  Again, we offer our heartfelt gratitude to the Chancellor of Josai and Josai International Universities, MIZUTA Noriko, Dean EN Fukuyuki, SHINOZAKI Kayo and the rest of the staff at JIU who generously offered his or her services above and beyond any duties, responsibilities, or obligations and on top of their already considerable responsibilities at JIU.

    We are saddened that we will not be able to meet in Tokyo, but when the dust settles, we look forward to a combined Tokyo/Los Angeles conference to celebrate our fiftieth anniversary, which will represent the very best of who we are and what we do.

    Sincerely,

    Patrice Petro, President

    Anne Friedberg, President-Elect

    Stephen Prince, Past-President

    Eric Schaefer, Secretary

    Paula Massood, Treasurer

    Scott Curtis, Member of the Board

    F. Hollis Griffin, Graduate Student Representative

    Michele Hilmes, Member of the Board

    Priya Jaikumar, Member of the Board

    Victoria Johnson, Member of the Board

    Charles Wolfe, Member of the Board

    Michael Zryd, Member of the Board

    ENDS

    12 Responses to “GOJ shuts down NJ academic conference at Josai University due to Swine Flu”

    1. Asterisk Says:

      Ah, who needs those silly academic conferences to begin with, when you can just have a good ol’ webinar.

    2. level3 Says:

      The GOJ had better be planning to pay off the cancellation fees for academics (or their university travel offices) who stand to lose a lot of money being forced to cancel on 1 week’s notice! Not doing so is just adding (financial) injury to insult [sic]

      But I’m sure the GOJ can claim they didn’t actually cancel the conference per se, they just imposed insane rules and threatened the attendees with being BILLED for the privilege of senseless quantine.

      If more conferences get cancelled over this, it will be a serious blow to Japan’s academic stature. But it just seems yet another GOJ policy that reveals their true intentions no mater how much they claim the contrary, “Keep gaijin out of Japan.”

      Silver lining of the cloud is the GOJ at least WARNED people before they started showing up only to be quarantined for 10 days eating curry rice alone in a hotel.

    3. Tornadoes28 Says:

      Unbelievable. The stupidity is amazing. The rest of the world seems to be getting past the whole swine flu hysteria and yet Japan only looks more ridiculous. Even my Japanese wife was wondering why Japan seemed to still be flipping-out over the swine flu unlike the rest of the world.

      – Because it’s in the bureaucratic pipeline. And because if Aso isn’t seen to be doing everything he can and the Black (Plague) Ships seem to invade due to negligence, he loses the next election.

    4. Jcek Says:

      Japan isn’t the only country being a big frantic about foreigners and New-influenza.

      http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5jqLjaHWCes64cYLpTqwyaO6WVu2Q

      The GOJ is doing a horrid job at informing people traveling to and via Japan about their quarantine process.

      Had to go here to get information about Japan!!

      http://tokyo.usembassy.gov/e/acs/tacs-warden20090509.html

      And about the above letter I especially enjoyed this line:

      4. Wear masks every day

      Apparently they didn’t read this site:

      http://www.who.int/csr/disease/swineflu/frequently_asked_questions/what/en/index.html

    5. Tyler in Nagano Says:

      What is the risk level currently with coming to Japan? Not risk level influenza-wise, but with quarantine matters? A Japanese colleague came back from Canada during Golden Week and was told to avoid going out to any large gatherings for 10 days and during the same period was called once a day to verify his body temperature. He was, however, allowed to run his business during that period.

      I am flying to the States next week for my brother’s wedding. We are shutting down our inn during that time. If I get held up in quarantine or something when we return and can’t run the business, it will be a financial disaster.

    6. Tyler (平) Lynch Says:

      Also, a side note, our town was scheduled to host a group of exchange students from China this week, but they canceled the trip until the swine flu epidemic is over. (Their cancelation was of their own initiative — not something the Jpnse Gov’t interfered with.)

      Canceled seminars, canceled exchange study groups … this flu is having a huge impact on tourist #’s.

      Some organizations here in Japan are trying to be proactive and make the best of the situation. On the Japanese Inn Group internal mailing list, there was mention of inns catering to foreigners to offer free masks, advise guests to wash hands, and provide handwipes at lobby PC’s.

      Also, FYI, info from Nagano Prefecture in English on Swine Influenza risks:
      http://www.pref.nagano.jp/kikaku/danjo/tabunka/bosai/bos_eng/eng_0903tiji.pdf

    7. Ryugakusei Says:

      The stupidity does not end there. In Tokyo university, we are being pressured to cancel our trips to conferences overseas as well for the same reason.

    8. elena Says:

      The “guidelines” in the same vein as mentioned above – quarantine on return from countries where infections were confirmed and a notice to (“Voluntarily” – well, everybody already knows that “voluntary” in Japan has the exactly opposite meaning) avoid travelling to such countries – have just arrived today from my husband’s University as well – I guess Debito is right, it’s just the bureaucratic machine moving, and given that it is particularly slow in Japan we might have to deal with this madness for quite some time – they already suggest that another epidemic is “planned”(? – that’s how it sounds indeed!) for the autumn winter period…

      And given that the list of the countries where infections have been confirmed is only going to increase – until it covers all countries of the world? Will Japanese bureaucrats just cut themselves from the world then? – I’m starting to think how are we going to travel during summer holidays with our small children…

    9. bitteradjunct Says:

      One of the universities I teach at canceled the annual summer exchange trip to the U.S. The school administration was good to go but not enough students signed up to study in Texas.

    10. Ariel Says:

      I work at a company that coordinates international youth exchanges, we send about 1,000 kids abroad (Canada, US, Australia, New Zealand, China, and Korea) every summer and accept about 90 kids from North America. It seems like every day there are endless meetings about what to do if large numbers of our Japanese kids cancel going abroad…we haven’t had any cancellations yet because it’s still over 2 months before they will depart. I’ve also been having to explain that having the kids wear masks during the homestay would be extremely offensive to North American host families.

      We haven’t heard much so far regarding our In-Japan programs, but I’m not looking forward to the parts involving airports. I can’t imagine what we’ll do if our company suddenly starts getting pressure from the government to cancel or restrict these homestays…there have literally been hundreds of hours put into it so far, and quite a few non-refunable deposits paid. Not to mention the disappointment of the participants or the host families…

    11. Glenski Says:

      I’m on the fence as to whether GOJ is really intent on killing these conferences for well-founded (perceived) reasons or not. Think of it logically like this:

      Deaths have occurred, even in the most advanced country in the world (USA).

      Conferences with international attendees (especially from countries where the flu has been identified) are potential hazards for disease and its spread. This is not a racist or discriminatory thing; it’s real epidemiology.

      Japan is canceling schools from kindergarten to high school in some locations as a precaution. Kids studying and playing in close contact is no different than a group of foreign conference attendees. Perhaps even safer, as the kids don’t get out to bars and restaurants as much as the meeting attendees. Granted, kids have their share of after-school events, but at least the kids can be monitored more closely than short-term foreigners.

      Schools are also canceling their annual study abroad trips, much like they did when SARS hit. I was involved in that. Fortunately, there was enough time to cancel flights, but it was hard to reschedule trips to other countries. I think a large problem with this conference being canceled is what Level3 mentioned early in this thread — that being last-minute cancellation fees the members will incur. Just what kind of compensation do people ***realistically*** expect? That’s my big question.

    12. Doug Says:

      It will be interesting to see where the quarantine goes now. Glenski you made good points and it is true that epidemiology must be considered. However we now have dozens of confirmed cases in Kobe and Osaka. Since Japan has a transportation infrastructure that requires people to travel in crowded situations this virus will undoubtably spread further. I believe Japan is officially now part of the Pandemic.

      I arrived back in Japan Friday from a trip to the US. I went through the inspection process on the aircraft where personnel were wearing full face shields, gloves, surgical gown to take temperatures. Fortunately we all received our yellow “Get out of quarantine free” cards and were able to deplane. However the paper did mention steps people from pandemic countries should take to avoid risks to themselves and the public.

      Now lets see where Japan goes from here. Now that Japan is indeed by definition part of the pandemic will they continue to target aircraft from North America in the same way or will they stop the senseless inspections on the planes. (Although I do think the pre-swine flu temperature checks and quarantine cards are reasonable).

      Or…..will they start performing these inspections on domestic aircraft, shinkasen, local trains, buses, etc.? This is a bit over the top but stated to make a point.

      As stated in the Japan Times online (Sunday May 17) “But the response Saturday indicated Kobe officials still view the spread of the H1N1 virus as more likely to happen overseas than in Japan, as they had no immediate plans to institute the kind of quarantine checks at city-run Kobe airport that are present at Japan’s international airports.”

      That does not seem to be based on real epidemiology. It will be interesting to see what happens at Narita, Chubu, Kansai from here forward.

      – And Sapporo Chitose.

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