The northern island of Hokkaido, off of Japan, acted swiftly during the early outbreak of COVID-19, as the officials there enacted a swift lockdown for 3 weeks. All seemed fine until the government officially lifted the lockdown.
That is when the second wave of infections hit the populace, and proved to hit even harder than the first time around. As a result, twenty-six days later the island found itself once again in lockdown.
One doctor, Kiyoshi Nagase of the Hokkaido Medical Association, who had been instrumental in coordinating the response by the government told TIME that he admits that he wished things had been done differently: “Now I regret it, we should not have lifted the first state of emergency.”
Hokkaido serves as a somber lesson for leaders all across the globe, as each country is preparing for the possibility of lifting its current lockdowns.
Experts to the Hokkaido decision state that the island lifted its lockdown too quickly, due to both pressure from local business owners as well as the populace's sense of security in the reporting of infection rates declining.
Experts believe that Hokkaido is an example of what many governors in the US may very well face, as they make plans to open their states back up which many feel is too soon.
Kazuto Suzuki, Vice Dean of International Politics at Hokkaido University, said: “That’s what we now know: Even if you control the first wave of the virus, you can’t relax.”
Hokkaido was the first region of Japan to be hit by the COVID-19 outbreak. The island story started on January 31st, during this annual snow festival celebrated in Sapporo, it's capital city.
Around the time the festival started, doctors encountered their first victim to the virus—a woman visiting from Wuhan, China. It wasn’t long before several more cases were reported, all amongst Chinese tourists, and in no time the virus was spreading across the island.
On February 28th, the governor of Hokkaido declared a state of emergency on the island. Schools, restaurants, and businesses closed, although not legally required to but by choice. The government of Japan is not able to use its police or military to enforce a lockdown, they are only able to strongly request that businesses do so.
On March 18th, the restrictions were eased and the next day the governor would announce the lifting of the lockdown, but still requested that residents social distance and if able, to continue to stay at home.
Once other nearby nations had heard of the lockdown being lifted, tourists started flooding the island. This did not bode well for the island, as three weeks after the lockdown was lifted, on April 9th, eighteen new cases of COVID-19 were reported.
On April 14th, the island declared a state of emergency, for the second time, as it has seen an 80% increase in reported COVID-19 cases from when the lockdown had been lifted just a short month before.
Could the governors in the US who are rushing to open their states back up fall to the same fate?