It was my first time on a plane since our world suddenly changed, and we learned how fragile life really is. We head to Japan, a country that finds itself in a challenging place, hosting the Olympics as the Delta variant rages around the world.
As soon as we boarded the plane, we had to test negative for COVID, when we landed, we were tested again immediately. At the airport, we were interviewed continuously, filled out many forms, and had tracking apps placed on our phones. It took less than four hours to be released, and we found ourselves in an empty airport.
We were quarantined in a hotel room. Dylan, my photographer, converted his room into a studio for Zoom interviews, while my room was used for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We were only allowed room service except, once a day, we were taken to the hospital for a COVID test. Several times a day we were called or texted to check on our location.
I spoke with Minister Makoto Shimoaraiso, the Japanese COVID expert, who showed me the numbers. In the first week of July, Japan’s infection rate was 8 positive cases per 100,000 – a crisis.
What’s interesting is, America is at the same time three times worse, but we’re not covering our faces at full capacity, celebrating, while Japan is declaring a state of emergency. More remarkably, our mortality rate is 16 times higher than that of Japan, despite their extremely high aging population.
What I find surprising is that they did not order the door locked due to “privacy”. They simply ask citizens to follow the rules – and they do. Here, COVID has not been politicized. Trusted leaders. The rules are respected – and disaster is avoided.
Japan’s biggest barrier is vaccination. The problem of supply and delivery has plagued the country since very early on. When I visited, only 13 percent of the population had been vaccinated. But now it is moving very fast.
“Anywhere between 1.2 and 1.4 doses is going on, so it’s much faster than anyone expected,” said Minister Taro Kono, head of the immunization department.
Kono is in charge of Japan’s vaccination program and is optimistic about autumn.
“By then, I think COVID-19 should be taken care of and we can reopen the economy,” he said.
It can’t come soon. Yumi Kume runs a taxi business that organizes tours, including exploring the work of Olympic architect Kengo Kuma. Her business might be booming, but COVID changed everything.
“It’s completely different. Normally it’s so busy that you can’t see the floor. But today, it was wonderful, it was empty, which really worried me,” Kume said.
At Senso-Ji Temple, it is usually bustling with shoppers and tourists, but now businesses that have been here for generations are closing.
Like the US, Japan is suffering. That’s why so many people here don’t want the Olympics. What they want is for this nightmare to end.
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https://abc7chicago.com/japan-olympics-tokyo-covid-restrictions-coronavirus/10906544/ | Journey to Japan: An exclusive look at a country pulling off the Olympics during pandemic