On April 7th 2020, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared a State of Emergency (SoE) on 7 prefectures: Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama, Chiba, Osaka, Hyogo and Fukuoka. It was later expanded as Nationwide SoE, and extended until May 31st.
During this time, my hometown in the Philippines was already under an Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ). Family and friends had adjusted to working from home, no public transportation, limited mobility, and social distancing. Some friends who were required to still go to work (ie frontliners) were living in company-provided hotels near their employment.
They also told me about requiring quarantine pass – an ID provided by the local government for each household – just to go out and buy basic necessities. Because of that, and also limited capacity in stores, most of the people had to buy bulk and sometimes shops run out of items.
I’ve heard so many stories of the difficulties of ECQ from friends, family and even random people on social media.
Naturally, when news broke out about Japan’s SoE, my family was worried for me. I was living alone in a country where I barely speak the language. And most of the news articles in English sounded vague, and a little incomplete. Their worst fear was that I get deported for being a foreigner in Japan.
However, my experiences during Japan’s “lockdown” was anything but worrisome. My routine didn’t totally change, and I rarely felt the anxiety over the pandemic. Japan’s SoE was totally different from Philippines’s ECQ, based on my personal views. And I feel so fortunate that I am living in Tokyo during these times of global distress.
So, what did change?
The biggest change was that malls, shops and entertainment centers closed for indefinite period. Even parks and zoos temporarily shut their doors to the public. What amazed me about this is that most of these places voluntarily closed even before the SoE. They didn’t wait for any written rule from the government, but took their own initiative to protect their employees and customers.
Places that remained open (ie supermarkets, pharmacies, convenience stores) made every adjustment they could to lessen the spread of infection. Staff wore masks, face shields and gloves. Transparent plastics were used to cover the counter, and markers are used to measure the 1 meter distance for lines. However, their hours remained the same as usual, so I am still able to shop at the 24-hour supermarket without problems. There are no rules of capacity, but we had to undergo temperature check at the entrance, and we’re encouraged to use the free alcohol/sanitizer.
All the citizens were encouraged to stay-at-home and avoid crowded places. However, going out was not penalized by the law, and curfews were not in effect. Even so, since most of the places are closed, people hardly go out. There’s nowhere to go to anyways, so my friends and I just stay and have fun indoors.
Also, the government asked companies to allow teleworking (work from home). In our office, 80-90% of employees did telework, leaving only a handful to work onsite. Since I live literally a minute away, I am one of the few who decided to continue working as usual. I also gained a new housemate. She’s a new employee who doesn’t have a car, and our CEO didn’t want her to commute everyday via train. She’ll move out again when the “new normal” begins.
Public transportation are still operational. I could still travel anywhere in Tokyo, but crossing prefecture borders were highly discouraged by the government. I’ve always thought Tokyo train stations as spacious, but seeing it without people was a bit mind-boggling. It was like living in an post-apocalyptic period.
Japan also closed its borders to most countries that had high infection rate. Unfortunately, Philippines was included and our passport and visa were restricted. It doesn’t mean I had to go back home and suffer, I just can’t go out of Japan for a while. And even if they lift the restrictions, I would still be required to have 14 days quarantine when I return to Japan. I cannot afford 2 weeks without work and staying in Narita airport (their makeshift quarantine area looks weird, honestly).
Good thing I could refund the airline tickets I bought. It maybe some time before I could indulge my wander lust again.
One thing that my friends and I were looking forward to is the financial aid from the government. I am still unsure if I am qualified for this, but most of the articles I read stated that foreigners are also eligible to claim. I would be very thankful if I do receive some aid, but I won’t be sorely disappointed if I don’t. I still have regular income after all.
Today, May 26th, PM Abe has lifted the SoE throughout the nation – a week before its deadline. Japan is one of the few countries that have successfully flatten the curve in terms of new cases. The local government now has the authority to implement rules they deem necessary to continue the fight against Covid. Some shops have reopened with adjusted hours, teleworking is still encouraged as much as possible, and people are still requested to stay at home.
We are now entering the “new normal” phase. I honestly don’t know what will happen next, but I trust the government, and I trust the people around me. I love the Philippines – it is my home after all; but Japan is the safest place for me. Every day I feel so lucky to be living and working here. I can only hope and pray that the Philippines will overcome the virus (and its other “diseases”) and that I can visit home soon.
I hope that everyone is safe and secure wherever your are! Virtual hugs ❤ ❤ ❤ !! We can get through this. #WeHealAsOne