The Japanese government is facing a public backlash after it promoted “new social behavior” guidelines on Monday, as a state of emergency implemented to curb the spread of coronavirus was extended until May 31.
Speaking at a news conference, an expert panel said the rate of new cases was on the decline in Japan -- but emergency measures would remain in place and the new guidelines should become the norm, as an uptick in infections would overwhelm hospitals.
New normal: The panel stressed the need to permanently adopt measures such as wearing face masks outside, keeping 2 meters (6.5 ft) between people, teleworking as much as possible, avoiding crowded spaces and washing hands regularly with soap in the long-term fight against the virus.
Backlash ensues: The advice, however, prompted criticism on social media. Many people commented that the new guidelines were obvious and that it was patronizing to try to enforce them.
One new recommendation made on Monday for people eating in restaurants to sit outside, side-by-side while keeping conversation to a minimum, triggered the biggest adverse reaction.
“I’m dumbfounded ... There are no other experts urging this kind of advice in the world -- just experts in Japan. It’s like they studied the virus, but not human behavior. What’s scarier than the virus is ignorant people giving society guidance on how to tackle it,” said one Twitter user.
Others, however, preferred to err on the side of caution. One Twitter user posted images of people eating out alone and children at elementary schools eating lunch at their desks with a protective shield around each of them.
“Taiwan and South Korea beat coronavirus and they’ve already been enforcing the measures in the photographs -- we might as well do the same. Wearing masks or eating alone isn’t expensive and it doesn’t infringe on human rights either,” the Twitter user said.
On Tuesday, the Japanese government said it would reevaluate the need to maintain the state of emergency on a weekly basis, according to public broadcaster NHK.