Japan clings on to masks and social distancing, despite being hit by floods
January 15, 2021

Japan clings on to masks and social distancing, despite being hit by floods

YATSUSHIRO (JAPAN) – A shelter for residents trying to escape from the devastating floods in southwestern Japan this week had boxes of surgical masks, bottles of disinfectant and a sign saying “Please wear a mask” at the entrance to a public gym in Yatsushiro city.

Cardboard partitions separate the 233 evacuees’ sleeping area, even as a sign ahead notifies them to check their temperature each morning, then sterilise the thermometers.

Japanese authorities have been warning local officials for months to include coronavirus measures even as they prepare to counter the disaster.

However, coronavirus contagion was something unexpected for 78-year-old retiree Aiko Ishimura when neighbours intimated her on Monday about evacuation orders.

Ishimura, who lives alone, had planned to shelter at home.

“So we just came as we were. We were in such a rush to come here, we didn’t bring anything,” Ishimura, who fled with neighbours, told. “I wasn’t worried at all about coronavirus, not at all.”

“We don’t have many cases here in the first place. We don’t really do the whole mask-wearing thing,” she added, although she said she keeps a mask in her pocket.

Kumamoto prefecture, where Yatsushiro is located, has had only 49 out of more than 20,000 coronavirus cases in the country, according to public broadcaster NHK.

This could be compared with close to 7,000 in Tokyo, where cases are increasing again among its 14 million residents.

Misa Matsuda, a 48-year-old nurse, was taken aback on early Monday when she opened her door and found the river flowing just a few feet from her house.

“I thought, there’s no way the water would come up here to our house, where it’s a bit of a hill,” she said.

Extreme weather disasters have become increasingly become common in Japan of late. Last year, Typhoon Hagibis killed nearly 100 people, a year after more than 200 people lost lives in western Japan, touted to be the worst flooding in decades.

Matsuda said she worried residents would assemble to chat, creating crowded conditions, which authorities fear could increase infection risk.

City official Takanobu Ono said the evacuation centre was constrained for 300 people despite a capacity for 500. But he said the priority for evacuees was escaping with their lives.

It is feared that about 60 people have died from floods and landslides triggered by torrential rains that occurred in the southwestern island of Kyushu, including Kumamoto prefecture, since Saturday. Extreme rain warnings were issued for parts of central Japan on Wednesday.

Masako Yoneda of the Japan Academic Network for Disaster Reduction, said, “We kept saying, ‘Check your hazard map”. The organisation issued an urgent warning on the topic in May. “But still, there are people who don’t check.”

(Photos syndicated via Reuters)
This story has been edited by BH staff and is published from a syndicated field.

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