Director-General Letter 2020/05/28
The transition of the COVID-19 under the seasonal change of Kyoto

Transition of COVID-19 issue in the world and Japan

It has been almost two months since we started to stay at home and work from home in order to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus infectious disease (COVID-19). The cherry blossom season has already passed, and the azalea flowers are now in full bloom in the fresh green around the quiet Chikyu-ken with few staff members present.

The global COVID-19 pandemic has spread to South America and South Africa, and the data as of May 25 (April 5) shows that the number of infected people is more than 5.4 million (more than 1 million) and the death toll is about 345,000 (more than 50,000). (The numbers in parentheses are based on Yasunari Tsushin as of April 5.) The number of infected and dead people has increased by 5 to 6 times in the last 50 days. In Japan, it has expanded mainly in big cities such as Tokyo and as of May 25 (April 5), the number of infected people is about 17,000 (4,000) and the number of deaths is 839 (93). The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases increased fourfold in the same period, but the number of deaths jumped nearly ninefold . However, as the cases have been decreasing since the beginning of Golden Week holidays in May as shown in Figure 1, the declaration of a state of emergency issued by the government on April 7 has been lifted (for the time being).

Transition of COVID-19 issue in Kyoto

Now, with regard to the situation in Kyoto (including Kyoto City and Kyoto Prefecture), as shown in Figure 2, since a cluster (group of infected people) from university students who returned from a graduation trip in Europe was confirmed on March 29, the number of infected people has soared, and due to the outbreak of a group infection at one hospital in the city, the number of cases reached nearly 20 a day on April 3, and there was growing concern about an explosive increase called "overshoot" just like what happened in Europe and America. Fortunately, the number of cases has been declining since mid-April. Only a few cases have been confirmed since Golden Week, and zero cases since May 15.

Why has it started to decline in Kyoto since mid-April? The government declared a state of emergency on April 7th, and Kyoto was not even included at that time. The effect of an emergency declaration cannot have appeared immediately. Several factors may have worked synergistically. First, the formation of group clusters by students had a great impact on Kyoto Prefecture and Kyoto City, and the governor and the mayor held an urgent joint press conference on April 2nd to urge the citizens to refrain from going out unnecessarily, sightseeing in Kyoto, and refrain from coming and going (including commuting to work and school) in the Kansai area where the number of infections is increasing rapidly in addition to maintaining a social distance. The cherry blossoms were in full bloom at the beginning of April this year, and there would have been so many people gathering at the famous Sakura spots in Kyoto city and Kyoto prefecture if it were not for the request for self-restraint, which seems to have been highly effective. The other fortunate factor was that a large number of foreign tourists who would rush to Kyoto to see the cherry blossoms at this time of year could not make their trips due to COVID-19 problems this year. Photo 1 is a picture the cherry blossoms in full bloom taken at the Kamogawa (Kamo-River) on April 3, but you can see that there are few people along the river. This virus is said to develop within 1-2 weeks after infection. It seems that infections caused by the first student cluster and hospital cluster in Kyoto prefecture have been effectively suppressed since the joint emergency declaration by the Governor and Mayor of Kyoto in early April, and the results seemed to have appeared in the middle of April. The declaration of a state of emergency nationwide issued afterward may have had a certain effect in suppressing the movement of people from other prefectures as well.

In Kyoto, where a large number of tourists usually come visit every year, it seems that stay-at-home requests, which came into effect from the end of April to Golden Week, were quite effective to reduce the number of cases. During this Golden Week, I looked into the Kiyamachi and Pontocho neighborhoods where a crowd of people can be seen every year, but this year all the restaurants were closed and almost no one was walking. Photo 2 is taken at Kamogawa near Shijo Ohashi on the evening of the last day of Golden Week, May 6th. Every year, restaurants along Kamogawa start opening a river bed (Yuka) in May, and the lively night view would spread, but it looked like a night view of a ghost town that day. All the shrines and temples that are tourist attractions in the city were also voluntarily closed. Photo 3 is a full view of Kiyomizu-dera Temple taken on Sunday, May 10, but there is no sign of people on the stage of Kiyomizu. Since May 15, about two weeks after the Golden Week, the days with zero cases have been achieved in Kyoto due to the stay-home effect. Ayu (Sweetfish) were released in Kamogawa to signal the beginning of summer, and ropes to keep away Japanese cormorants (Phalacrocorax carbo ) were also stretched near Shijo Ohashi (Big Bridge) (Photo 4). The number of people who enjoy dining and drinking on the Yuka along the Kamogawa river has gradually increased, and the town of Kyoto seems to have finally regained its season.


Number of COVID-19 infected people in Japan (as of May 28)

Number of COVID-19 infected people in Kyoto Prefecture (as of May 28)

Importance of local/regional level democracy for the COVID-19 issue

On the other hand, stay-at-home and business suspension requests have significantly reduced the income of so many shops and businesses. Requests for business suspension should be carried out in combination with compensation, but the government's response to this issue is so slow that they have only started to put it into practice little by little by the strong demands from many local governments. Nevertheless, the reason why the request for voluntary stay-home and business suspension could be carried out quite effectively was probably because there was sharing of problems based on the good relationship of trust between local governments of Kyoto Prefecture /Kyoto City and citizens. The positive cooperation of hotels in the city to prevent overwhelming hospitals was also effective. Similar effects have been seen in Tokyo and Osaka as well. In some European countries, mandatory lockdowns were carried out accompanied by penalties, but they couldn’t stop hospitals from being overwhelmed, causing an explosive increase in infections and deaths. Japan's considerable control over the spread of infection, at least at this point, strongly suggests that democratic policies and actions at the local/regional level are more important than the enactment of such legislation.

(Acknowledgment: I am grateful to Ms. Megumi Arita for completing the English version of this message.)

  • Photo1

    Photo 1: Full blossom of cherry trees along Kamo river at Shimogamo (Apriol 3) (left) left bank near Izumoji-bashi, (right) right bank near Aoi-bashi.

  • Photo2

    Photo 2: Evening scenery near Shijo Ohashi (Bridge) at Kamo river (May 6). The lights of most of buildings were off.

  • Photo3

    Photo 3: Whole view of Kiyomizu-dera temple from Amidagamine, Higashiyama (May 10). No tourists were seen at the famous Butai (Stage) of the temple.

  • Photo4

    Photo 4: Upstream view of Kamo-river from Matsubara-bashi (May 21). Ropes to keep away Kawa-wu (cormorants) were also stretched across the river sides.