Home Community Sansei Journal Coronavirus: “Stay Home” Weeks 3-4

Coronavirus: “Stay Home” Weeks 3-4

By David Yamaguchi, The North American Post

1. Stay Home!

It has been stunning to me how even Seattle’s construction cranes have gone quiet since the Mar. 23 start of Gov. Jay Inslee’s “stay home” order. For the decree includes high-rise workers on private projects, despite much of their work involving outdoor framing.

2. Curve Benders.

On the plus side, many “headline” countries have started bending down the curve of new COVID-19 infections like China and South Korea. According to “Coronavirus App,” which draws from Worldometers data, the new “benders”  include Spain, Italy, and Australia (as of Apr. 21). By bending down, I am using 14 days of fewer new infections after a past peak as an index. This is a sufficiently short period to be achievable, yet long enough to be potentially real and lasting. Noticably absent are France, Germany, the UK, Canada, Japan, and Mexico..

Among headline U.S. states, FL, LA, and WA lead the benders, with a past peak on Apr. 2. We are followed by NJ, MI, CO (4/3), and PA (4/4).

3. Japan.

Japan is again in the headlines, as the virus has been quietly gaining ground there with each passing week. Most troubling is that Fifteen of its 47 prefectures have  exceeded their COVID hospital-bed capacity, including Tokyo, Hyogo, Hiroshima, and Okinawa. The country has only 12,207 available beds overall, which are at 72% occupancy (stopcovid19.jp, Apr. 21).   

4. Understanding COVID-19’s exponential growth.

What makes COVID so evil is the subtle way its  infected numbers creep up on country after country, state after state. Japan was caught by the wicked upswing that happens because COVID-infected individuals transmit the virus to a median of 2.8 others (TR Frieden & CT Lee, 2020, Emerging Infectious Diseases, v. 26; preprint on the US Centers for Disease Control website (CDC).

The problem is that we as humans, including political leaders, have a hard time grasping the concept of exponential growth implied by the above infection pattern. NPR’s “Radio Lab” of Apr. 11 explains it well.

As a teaching example, a physicist-father offers to pay his son to mow the lawn 30 times in one of  two ways: a flat rate—let’s say $30 per cut—or at a starting rate of one cent that doubles each time. In the latter case, after three mowings, the son would make a whopping seven cents.

Which offer should the son accept? A short answer is that the doubling rate would allow the son to retire comfortably, with a final payment near $5.4 million. I leave the computational exercise to the reader, who in turn might assign it to the stuck-at-home student in the household. (As microeconomics expert Arisa Nakamura would be able to tell you, the equation is “y equals 2 to the x power.”)

The cold, cruel math explains why delays in starting stay-home measures are so costly. The virus broadens its base while politicians dawdle. Japan had COVID beat until Feb. 15, when the known new daily case count jumped to 25. By the time the IOC postponed the Olympics (Mar. 24), the new-case count was 65. When Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared a limited state of emergency that applied to Tokyo and six other at-risk prefectures (Apr. 6), the new-case count reached 515. Finally, when Abe declared a national state of emergency (Apr. 16), the new-count reached 526, for a total case-count of 8626 (The COVID-19 app) or 9000 (Japan Times, Apr. 16).

5. Progress in the Nicolas Zepeda Contreras case.

Despite COVID-19’s international presence, the world continues to turn slowly on other fronts. That rotation has been aided by the virus’s arrival in different places on different dates. In Chile, it landed on Mar. 3, permitting full societal functioning longer than here (arrival, Jan. 15)  and in France (Jan. 24).

The Chilean Supreme Court decided that France could extradite Contreras (Japan Times, Apr. 3; Mainichi, Apr. 3). Recall that he is the only suspect in the case of the disappearance and likely murder of exchange student Narumi Kurosaki. She had been studying French in Besancon, eastern France, in Dec. 2016 (SJ, Jan. 2017,  Feb. 2018).

While something of a cold case, it continues to matter because it should not be possible to disappear an exchange student, and then get away with it on technicalities of international law. It also serves to remind Japanese students that the world beyond Japan’s shores is not as safe as within them.    

Until early April, the sticky points had been whether Contreras could be extradited to France for a murder trial when (a) Chile and France lack an extradition agreement, and (b) there is “insufficient evidence. No body has been found. Accordingly, France has slowly been building its case.    

It seems the Chilean court has gotten over their previous issue with the lack of a body. The passage of time has probably helped. For no young girl vanishes these days with her mobile phone and bank cards going quiet. Also in France’s favor is that Contreras has refused to answer any of the 96 questions it posed to him in Chile.

As Contreras almost certainly committed the crime (he premeditated it in many ways, including asking his cousin, a physician, about the potential for blood loss during strangulation), there is but one path forward. It is for him to be sitting in jail in France while he thinks further about his answers.

Until now, Contreras has apparently been staying home, likely aided by his wealthy parents, who previously shielded him from international press photographers. He cannot leave Chile independently, for there is an international warrant out for his arrest. To that we can also add COVID travel restrictions.

The only remaining hitch now is that Contreras has appealed the Supreme Court’s decision, so that another bench of the court must review it. Presumably that work can be done remotely.

6. Diversions.

“Emperor” (2012, IMBD 6.5/10,  Tommy Lee Jones). This film is now available free on YouTube. I found it worth watching, for it captures a key period in the lives of our WW2-era grandparents and parents: the Occupation of Japan. The film focuses on the largest question the occupation army faced: what role should the Japanese emperor play in post-war Japan? Should he be tried as a war criminal? Or should he be allowed to remain as a national symbol, central to the minds of the Japanese people?

Several aspects of the film are noteworthy. These include its depictions of Tokyo in flames, and the “flat” post-war city. Both are  unfamiliar to most Americans, who know of Hiroshima and Nagasaki but not of Tokyo. Additionally there are the shades-of-gray portrayals of the men and women on both sides who did what they could to set the stage for today’s Japan.