When Tom Hanks announced in early March that he had the new coronavirus, his message encouraging the public to embrace social distancing suddenly made the situation more tangible and reverberated throughout Japan.
The spike in infections in Japan is prompting celebrities and social media influencers to use the internet to convince followers and fans, as well as the government, to take decisive action to minimize social contact.
Despite Japan’s march toward lockdown, the government has yet to impose one or introduce rigorous control measures with tough penalties for violators as seen in other countries attempting to slow the pandemic.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and a government-appointed panel of medical experts have been asking the public to avoid enclosed, crowded areas and to work from home as much as possible. In the Tokyo area, where the coronavirus has struck hardest, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike is urging residents to refrain from nonessential outings especially during weekends and weekday evenings. She says Tokyo is at high risk of experiencing an explosion of infections unless people take action now.
The record for single-day infections in the capital is being broken daily, with about 118 on Saturday and 143 on Sunday.
Koike’s fellow governors in neighboring Kanagawa, Saitama, Chiba and Yamanashi prefectures made similar appeals to residents late last month.
Nevertheless, many people in Tokyo and elsewhere, especially the young, still seem to lack a sense of urgency about stopping the contagion, which is perhaps being reflected by the increasing number of people getting infected after visiting big cities like Tokyo and Osaka.
Chicago Cubs pitcher Yu Darvish compared the pandemic to a world war, asking followers to imagine scenes where bombs are scattered all over the city and people are facing the prospect of food shortages and imminent death.
“I have an impression that staying home is much easier than that,” he tweeted Sunday morning.
Social media has enabled influencers to gain attention and gauge public sentiment.
SoftBank Group Corp. founder Masayoshi Son compared Japan’s situation with New York’s, emphasizing that Gov. Mario Cuomo declared an emergency when the state had 89 cases, which was the figure reported in Tokyo on Friday but ended up topping 83,000 just three weeks later.
“There are 773 people infected in Tokyo at the moment. What are your thoughts about it?” Son asked.
Son on Friday asked his followers in a 24-hour survey if a state of emergency should be declared soon. Of the 238,931 people who responded, 82 percent said yes.
His tweet was shared by Rakuten Inc. founder and CEO Hiroshi Mikitani, Son’s e-commerce rival.
Rock star Yoshiki, who on March 1 announced he had called off his concerts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and has repeatedly asked fans to self-isolate, also weighed in on the government’s response to the pandemic despite his managers’ misgivings.
In a Twitter post addressed to both Abe and Koike, Yoshiki wrote: “I think Japan should declare a state of emergency, immediately.”