Tourists upbeat in Japan despite coronavirus outbreak

Published on : Friday, February 21, 2020

While Japan deals with one of the worst outbreaks of a new coronavirus outside China, foreign tourists to the nation remain largely confident – at least, for the moment — that they will be safe in the country.


There were over 70 confirmed cases in Japan as of Wednesday, the third highest number after China, where the virus originated, and Singapore. The figure does not include the 621 cases among passengers and crew aboard the Diamond Princess, a cruise ship quarantined until Wednesday in Yokohama, which the World Health Organization regards as having occurred on an “international conveyance.”


A New Zealander at Tokyo Tower, one of the Japanese capital’s major sightseeing spots, said that while her parents tried to stop her from travelling, she does not have any concerns about the outbreak.


“It doesn’t sound that deadly, as long as you’re relatively healthy and keep washing your hands,” said Alur Saguinsin, 21, an engineering student, referring to COVID-19.


She had originally planned to transit in China on her way home but changed her plans at the last minute due to travel restrictions now in place for arrivals from the Chinese mainland.


A couple from France, also visiting the tower, had called the French defence ministry and texted a Japanese acquaintance in mid-January to make sure it was safe to visit.


“We were worried at first, but not now, we feel safe. In France we have the flu and a lot of people die,” said Elodie Haouas, 36, as her 35-year-old husband Omar procured a miniature bottle of hydroalcoholic gel from his bag with a grin.


Peggy Reed, who was visiting from the United States with her daughter, said she has no plans to cancel their skiing trip in northern Japan.


“I would not go to China now, but I’m no more worried being here than I would be in New York. I think it’s made into a bigger deal. We wash our hands a lot. I’m not particularly worried,” the 46-year-old said.


Some travellers from Australia were likewise unfazed by the virus outbreak, with Japan still listed at the lowest risk level on the government’s official travel advisory website.


A 23-year-old Australian university graduate who gave her name as Lou B. expressed only mild concern as she waited with her sister Gabby, 21, by the iconic scramble crossing in the Shibuya entertainment district.


Gabby said that while she may face some quarantine restrictions on her return to Australia since she works in a hospital, the pair would have still chosen to come at this time.


“We would just have brought more masks and hand sanitizers. Although, we both travel a lot so I feel hand sanitizers would have been normal to take anyway,” said Lou.


A recent survey on foreign visitors to Japan found that 55.5 per cent of those surveyed had to search for information about the new coronavirus outbreak on their own.


Of the 256 respondents, 66.8 per cent said they tried to collect information on the epidemic through websites from their home countries, followed by 55.1 per cent who relied on social networks and online communication with friends.


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