Tokyo – Even though Japan has entered its third state of emergency in response to the coronavirus pandemic, life seems almost normal in Tokyo and other prefectures like Saitama.
In Kawagoe, known as Little Edo, near Tokyo, businesses continue, albeit with shortened hours compared with pre-pandemic times.
Arcades with their UFO claw machines, izakayas (Japan’s version of a pub), cat cafes, game stores, salons, massage parlours are all open. So are supermarkets and restaurants.
Kawagoe’s outdoor mall called Crea Mall, which resembles the famous Takeshita Street of Shibuya, also has its fair share of foot traffic, even during the odd hour of 3 pm on a Wednesday.
However, there are a few distinct changes you will see when taking a stroll outdoors in Japan. Most, if not all, of the people are wearing masks of all colours, designs and materials. The practice of wearing a mask when one is sick has become the norm for everyone.
Another key difference is how businesses have adjusted to adhere to safety measures. Earlier, a staff member would take your temperature with a thermometer gun and there would be pump bottles for spraying hand sanitiser. Now the process has become automated.
You will see alcohol bottles activated with a sensor or foot pedal and temperature scanners that use facial recognition at every entrance of a business establishment. Some restaurants also give you a disposable plastic sleeve to store your face mask while you dine.
Kawagoe is still quite subdued compared to Tokyo where the Yamanote Line, the city’s most important railway line, has trains running packed with passengers during rush hour.
If you stand in the wrong lane while walking in Shinjuku station, the world’s busiest railway station, you might get swept away by the wave of salarymen making their way to and from the office.
Even so, almost everyone is wearing masks, and all you hear are rushing footsteps amid the intercom announcements.
In terms of vaccination, the country has got flak for its slow rollout. Japan only started vaccinating the elderly population in April, and it may take until winter for the rest of the country to get vaccinated.
It was reported that the country had vaccinated only about one per cent of its approximately 126 million population.
Meanwhile, Tokyo reported over 635 new coronavirus cases on Sunday (Apr 25), indicating a week-on-week increase for 25 consecutive days.
“Despite the growing number of coronavirus cases, vaccine rollout has been extremely slow compared to other First World countries. People live with worry, and yet still enter packed trains,” said an engineer working in Tokyo when approached for a comment.
Cities have also begun issuing advisories to their residents regarding the vaccination initiative, which is often free of charge.
A Glimpse Covid-19 in Germany
Let us travel 9,100 km to Germany, where another correspondent of The Independent Singapore is currently located.
In many ways, it’s not that bad.
Yes, museums, theatres and other cultural sites are all closed, as are most shops (except groceries).
But still and all, it’s spring, and the flowers are coming out. The birds are singing, and if you live near nature, you can see ducks, and maybe even swans and the occasional squirrel.
Nature is changing after a long winter—and in a few weeks, everything will be green again.
Speaking of flower, it’s tulip season, and there are fields where you can go and pick bunches of different-coloured ones and then leave some coins in a giant honesty box.
If tulips are not your favourite, you can get daffodils, hyacinths, or a pot of pansies in every imaginable colour.
The nicest thing is not having to wear masks outdoors, except when you’re in crowded areas like open-air markets or city centres. But for a walk in the woods or by the lake, no mask is needed.
And, if the urge to splurge hits you, there’s always the grocery—your friendly neighbourhood Aldi or Lidl, where you can choose from a shocking array of chocolate.
The local bookshop is open as well, which is a nice little bonus when you get cabin fever and don’t want to stay home, or if it’s raining and too wet for a nature walk.
Long story short—if you’re not into big-city life and don’t mind staying home or rambling in nature, it almost doesn’t feel like a lockdown in a small town in Germany.
A Glimpse of Covid-19 in Calgary, Canada
Meanwhile, in Canada, where another correspondent is located, only fully outdoor gatherings are allowed with a maximum of 10 people following social distancing.
Restaurants and bars are open in Calgary, Alberta, but tables are limited to six people from the same household.
There are currently around 1.17 million confirmed cases in Alberta, while vaccine distribution is underway for seniors and persons with conditions. Nearly 1.4 million doses have been administered as of Apr 24.
All stores have “no mask/no entry” signs and offer alcohol, hand sanitiser and sanitising wipes at entrances and exits.
There is a strong air of Covid-fatigue throughout the city, with people cutting corners with restrictions and the like.
A strong sentiment of anti-masking and anti-vaccinating could also be felt in the city. Several encounters with members of the public result in comments such as “I’m not a mask guy” or “I’m not a pandemic guy.”
Now that winter is turning into spring, most Calgarians are turning their attention to camping, mountain biking and other outdoor activities, which are allowed under the current restrictions.
There is an upsurge in Good Samaritan-like behaviour in local community Facebook groups. Several new “free” groups have sprouted, where people post items (from food to furniture and other home items) to give away for free, with a first-come, first-served policy.
Some people have posted pleas for assistance with food, and others have responded quickly with offers of food hampers, even offering to deliver them to those asking for help./TISG