May 18, 2009

H1N1 (aka Swine Flu) Flu Panic Hits Kansai


We just found out that Kobe has its first case of H1N1 flu, and it is a teenager who has not traveled outside of Japan. The local reaction has been to close all public schools in the Kobe/Osaka area. Private schools have also been asked to be closed. Jacob and Lauren's school will be closed for the week. We also hear that Kobe Matsuri, a huge parade event in Kobe to take place on Sunday, has been canceled.

It all certainly seems like a bit much (and the local press, we hear, has been in a state of panicked hysteria), but in this ultra-careful, mask-wearing, quarantining culture, it is an unsurprising measure. (How closing schools is really going to help anything is a mystery to us, since people will still be interacting, going shopping, going to work, etc.)

Certainly, with less than five reported cases in all of Japan, we are not freaking out (certainly it seems a heck of a lot "safer" being here than being in the U.S.!). And as far as we understand, this flu (at least in its current form) is actually less virulent than the normal seasonal flu. But we shall see how it all plays out. (But it certainly doesn't ease the mind nor is it fun to see read the news reports, see trains and streets desserted, and have everyone around you wearing those surgical masks, which, to a Westerner, have always seemed a bit off-putting.)

Late Sunday Update

Latest news here....Wishing we had stock in whatever company makes these surgical masks that are selling like hotcakes...We hear that the stores are crowded in anticipation of a battoning down of the hatches. (Think pre-hurricane stock-piling, but with more masks.)

Monday Update

News reports now that there are 42 confirmed cases in the Osaka/Kobe area and the freaking out escalates. Looked like about 75% (!!) of commuters were wearing masks this morning.

Tuesday Update

Latest news reports that there are around 160 cases. (Not a big surprise.) 4000 schools in the area have been closed. Our kids vacation/quarantine continues. Meanwhile, from the news back home, we hear that they are recommending not to close schools and that this flu strain is actually more mild than the normal seasonal flu. Out here, we couldn't even buy a mask if we wanted to - the stores are sold out! At least "Prime Minister Taro Aso said the government will not ban people from leaving home and asked people to respond calmly." So we won't be sentenced to stay in our homes. That's a relief...

Wednesday Update

Kids are still home from school. This epidemic has certainly taken its biggest toll on stay-at-home moms (and dads), who have had the kids home all week! Things on Rokko Island have been pretty quiet out there, and it seems that us gaijin are the only ones out there hanging out together instead of staying at home inside alone (while inviting a fair share of disdain for doing so, it seems).

Mike was given a mask by a co-worker at work to use on the train. So now he is wearing a mask on the trains too. (Not so much because we think the mask prevents anything, but out of respect for others who may disagree -- unfortunately, it seems a bit disrespectful and feels weird to be the only one on the train not in a mask). Ugh.

News reports indicate that now that the flu is within Japan, efforts to catch it at the border via scanning arriving flights from North America and quarantining will be curtailed as the focus will go towards slowing the domestic spread. (This is a big relief for us, since we have plans for a weekend trip to Hong Kong in a few weekends, and were getting worried!).

It is also reported that the pace of spread in Kansai is slowing and many who are infected are recovering. Of course, this whole scare is having an impact on education (kids home from school) and business (everyone staying home), unless, of course, you happen to be in the business of selling Purell or surgical masks.

Anyway, this blog was more fun when we weren't writing about swine flu! So we're going to stop this running post here. Hopefully things return to normal around here very soon.


Semsavblanc said...

As we say in Australia - "Be alert, but not alarmed". Stay herushi OK.

jmgesq said...

There hardly seems to be any attention paid to it here at all even though several schools have closed and one administrator died this week (complications from other illnesses may account for it).

Hope you're able to leave as planned for Hong Kong. There are Peking Ducks waiting for you in your future, I KNOW!

Heather said...

Love the commuter photos. Quintessential Japan. Alas, this is no joke to the Japanese.

haseemscamel said...

I came all the way from North carolina for Kobe samba and they cancel it. I want my money back.