The rumblings of the impending trouble came as early as mid January 2020, when news of the new coronavirus started spreading. I was able to read about how it was spreading in China and with the then upcoming Lunar New year celebrations looming, I was thinking that the virus might get worse.

The new year came and went, and when I returned to Singapore then, the news of the day was regarding how it was spreading like wildfire in China and people around me were saying how Singapore should ban Chinese from entering the country.

Fast forward to today, and my home country Singapore is already second in the world in terms of the number of infected. Life in Japan has not been adversely affected thus far, due to luck more than anything else, from what I have personally witness thus far.

In my humble opinion, an outbreak in Tokyo will be far worse than Singapore if it should happen. Why? The reasons as follows:

1 Transportation

Commuter trains in Tokyo are notoriously packed, with old videos of white gloved JR staff packing people onto trains filled to the brim with commuters. As someone working here, I report to work by 8am in the morning. From my station, there are warning signs saying that the ultra peak period is from 6.45am to 8am in the morning. How packed does it get, you may ask. Basically, people have 0 personal space to speak of, and they are basically breathing into each other’s faces and presses back to back, shoulder to shoulder and even chest to chest. this situation is not helped by the fact that most people here are conditioned to squeeze onto trains no matter what, even if the next train is only 2-3 mins away. Just look at Shinjuku station in the morning for first hand proof.

Given that the virus has been know to spread primarily via physical contact, it does not take a genius to imagine the disastrous consequence of just having one infected person being allowed to take a peak hour train.

2 Hygiene standards

While people generally think that Japanese people are clean, I have seen far too many cases of people not washing their hands even after using the toilet. Of course, compared to other countries, I’m sure Japanese people are still quite clean. Still, this could be one chink in the armour protecting agains the spread of this virus in Japan.

3 Mask availability

There has been a widespread shortage of masks even here in Japan. Luckily, most people should have some stocked up due to the excellent habit of the Japanese where they wear masks in order to prevent catching any common illness or when they show consideration to others when they are sick. However, I note that there have been many cases of people either hoarding them out of fear or for profit (disgusting, I know)

Solutions/ Precautions?

My two cents on some potential solutions to the problems listed (which may or may not be possible to implement)

The government could enact an emergency law to force or highly incentivise companies to allow working remotely. This would reduce the chance of human contact by reducing the crowd in trains. Surely, this will be a measure that helps to curb the spread of the disease, but at what cost? Companies in Japan are known to be loathe to adopting new ideas, and despite the government ruling, some may still mandate that their workers report for work despite the law. (just look at the number of companies forcing workers to report to work during life threatening conditions when Typhoon Hagibis struck in 2019)

Sanitisation measures have to be stepped up. While it is surely impossible to clean every nook and cranny of every building in Tokyo, the common touch points in major transport points should be disinfected regularly (eg. railings in major hub stations). More ads have to be run to encourage people to wash their hands thoroughly, regularly. Surely, prevention is better than cure.

Finally, there really should be some rationing of the masks. Instead of allowing people to buy 10,000 masks at a go (the recent purchase by Taiwanese celebrity Barbie Hsu), individuals should be capped at maybe a box for each purchase? This should at least allow more people to have access to masks, especially to those who really need it (the sick).


The outbreak has caused problems at all levels of societies and turned people against each other. We need to act quickly and decisively to prevent the spread of the virus before it becomes worse. I sincerely hope things will get better in Japan, especially with the Tokyo Olympics coming this year.