Richard Lloyd Parry, a very respected journalist and author, has come out with a sensibly-argued Op-Ed in The Times London in favor of cancelling the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. But even then he words things carelessly when he writes:
“[…] Japan […] compared to the pandemic mess in the rest of the rich world [has] been doing well. With twice the population of Britain, Japan has registered about a tenth the number of coronavirus cases and one twentieth the deaths. This has nothing to do with vaccination, which has hardly begun in Japan — only a few tens of thousands of health workers have been jabbed — but rather good hygiene and an almost complete ban on foreign visitors. Now the government threatens to sacrifice these gains for the sake of money and prestige.”
COMMENT: Portraying Japan’s apparent success at lower case numbers as due to an almost complete ban on “foreign visitors” is neither helpful nor accurate. As Mr. Lloyd Parry surely must have known (since the ban affected him too as a Japan resident), this ban included foreign residents, not just visitors. Not to mention that the British Covid variant was verifiably brought into Japan by Japanese. Implicitly framing Covid as a “foreign virus” brought in by “foreign visitors” makes Japan seem to be a hermetically-sealed environment until the foreigners came in; and now “the government threatens to sacrifice these gains” from its apparent isolationism. This rhetoric isn’t that far removed from calling it the “Chinese Virus” or the “Kung Flu”. And we’ve seen the dreadful results of that kind of carelessness.
A moment’s reflection (which probably would have happened if Lloyd Parry were talking about minorities in Britain, especially at the editorial stage) would have brought about the realization that these are people we’re talking about, and how issues are couched in the media affects them, particularly if they’re Japan’s disenfranchised minorities. If it were my article, I would have said “Japan strongly limited international travel”, which doesn’t zero in on foreigners in specific.
I’ll let others comment on the possible comparative issues of “good hygiene” (implying the rest of the rich world has bad hygiene?), and other factors that might lead to Japan undercounting actual virus cases (such as a lack of reliable contact tracing, and not testing the asymptomatic for Covid). But in my view, keeping the Covid case numbers low was a matter of politics, not science: to keep the Olympics on track. Now even despite all that, Lloyd Parry makes a convincing argument for canceling the Games. Fine. But let’s be more careful how we point fingers, shall we? We’ve seen enough of how foreign correspondents succumb to Japan-style racialized narratives just as soon as they talk about “foreigners” and Japan.