To travel or not to travel? Japanese can’t get a straight answer
Bloomberg -- Aug 08
Mid-August is a traditional time for many Japanese to leave the densely populated cities and travel to meet family in rural areas. Many fear that in the absence of firmer government advice, those travelers may be bringing an unseen passenger -- the coronavirus.

The Obon holiday period is synonymous with summer holidays, cleaning family graves and reuniting with friends and family. But with national and local officials giving conflicting signals over the risk of travel as the period approaches, the holiday threatens to boost the spread of the pandemic, as cases continue to rise across the country.

A day before many were due to travel, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike made a belated call for residents to refrain from going to their hometowns or otherwise traveling.

“This is a special summer. I want residents to avoid trips, going to their hometowns, going out at night or traveling far away,” Koike said at a press conference on Thursday. “If the situation worsens I will have no choice but to declare a state of emergency in Tokyo.”

The advice conflicts with that of the national government, which has pointedly refrained from calling for curbs on traveling home for the holidays, even after virus cases hit daily records in many parts of the country. Osaka reported a record 225 infections on Thursday.

“We are not asking for a blanket call on travel restrictions, nor are we giving a specific direction on whether people can or should not travel during the Obon period,” said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga on Tuesday.

Asked on Thursday if people should make up their own mind on whether to return to their hometowns during the holiday period, Suga responded, “Basically, yes.”

With cases flaring in population centers nationwide, the government’s lack of direction against travel has been met with criticism. Some regions little touched by the virus have called on people not to return, fearing the specter of infected but possibly asymptomatic young people leaving cities and transmitting the disease to elderly relatives.

Confusing the matter further is the government’s insistence on pushing ahead with a domestic travel campaign to spur the tourism industry. But experts say that not all travel is equal, and traveling to see family raises the danger of infection.

“At Obon, people are going out with friends, having drinking parties or coming in close contact with their family,” said Haruka Sakamoto, a public health researcher at the University of Tokyo. “Usually, their relatives are of an older generation, such as parents or grandparents in their 80s or 90s. I think Obon is a much higher risk than the Go To travel campaign.”

In Tokyo, infections within households have become one of the primary causes of rising cases. Such transmission accounted for 10% of cases found in Tokyo on Tuesday, Koike said, with 40% of the cases found in the elderly traced to their own households.

News source: Bloomberg
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