<Updated 3/11> How to Stay Safe Amidst the Covid-19 Situation in Japan

The novel coronavirus is spreading with frightening speed from its epicenter in the city of Wuhan in Hubei Province, China. Whether you're visiting or live in Japan, it’s important to take measures to keep yourself safe. This quickly-spreading pathogen has already infected over 80,000 in China and caused over 3,000 deaths, so everyone should be paying attention as the situation unfolds. While neighboring countries have taken action against the danger of the virus, with Taiwan and Hong Kong closing their borders to Chinese travelers, the Japanese government's slow response has been regarded as problematic by many. A state of emergency with face mask shortages, which help to prevent the spread of the disease, has arisen after those fleeing China bought up much of the country’s stock while many Japanese people remained unaware of the extent of the situation. This article will cover the state of Covid-19 in Japan, and what you need to know when visiting.


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Spread of the Novel Coronavirus

The effect of the new coronavirus continues to grow, with more and more people infected daily. The infection rate is shown below. 

Spread of the Coronavirus Within Japan

Timeline of the Novel Coronavirus So Far


November 9: Chinese authorities identify a novel coronavirus in pneumonia patients.
December 31: Chinese authorities alert WHO (World Health Organization) to an outbreak of pneumonia of an unknown cause.


January 1 China shuts down the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market.
January 9 China confirms the first fatality connected to the virus.
January 16 Japan confirms its first case of infection in Kanagawa Prefecture.
January 22 The USA restricts entry to travelers from Wuhan at five airports. North Korea restricts entry by all tourists from China. Taiwan restricts group travel to and from Wuhan.
January 23 Wuhan is placed under quarantine, with plane, train, and ferry transit suspended. Numerous Japanese airlines, including ANA, suspend flights to Wuhan.
January 24 Taiwan suspends group travel to the entire Chinese continent. Japan suspends Hubei Province-bound voyages (including Wuhan). The Philippines deports 500 Wuhan tourists. The second case of infection is confirmed in Japan.
January 25 Shanghai Disneyland is closed. Chinese government virtually prohibits overseas travel. The third case of infection is confirmed in Japan.
January 26 Hong Kong Disneyland is closed. Japan confirms its fourth infection.
January 27 Hong Kong closes its border to Hubei Province. Japan declares the novel coronavirus a designated infectious disease.
January 28 The Japanese government holds a Ministerial Meeting on Countermeasures Related to the Novel Coronavirus. The National Institutes of Health in the USA begin work on developing a vaccine. North Korea imposes a one-month quarantine on arrivals from China. The fifth, sixth, and seventh cases of infection is confirmed in Japan. 
January 29 The Japanese government sends a charter plane to evacuate citizens from Wuhan. Japan confirms the eighth, ninth, and tenth cases of infection. Australian researchers succeed in replicating the novel coronavirus in a lab. British Airways suspends all flights to and from China.
January 30 Japan confirms its 11th - 14th cases of infection.
January 31 WHO declares a state of emergency. Air France suspends all flights to and from China. The Philippines bans entry to travelers from Hubei Province, including Wuhan. Japan confirms its 15th, 16th, and 17th infection. 
February 1 Japan confirms its 18th, 19th, and 20th infection. The Japanese government in principle restricts entry by foreigners who have stayed in Hubei in the past two weeks and those with Chinese passports issued from Hubei.
February 5 Another 10 cases of the novel coronavirus are confirmed among passengers and crew on the Diamond Princess, a large cruise ship anchored in the port of Yokohama.
February 8 The first Japanese man discovered to be infected, a man in his 60s, is discharged.
February 9 908 confirmed deaths in China, surpassing the SARS epidemic.
February 11 Novel Coronavirus is designated as COVID-19 by the WHO
February 13 The Japanese government restricts entry by those from Zhejian Province, China. The first confirmed death in Japan occurs in Kanagawa prefecture to a woman in her 80s.
February 21 All major events, and all events where food is served, organized by prefectural governments including Tokyo and Osaka are postponed or cancelled for the time being. The Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare advocates for companies to make it easier for workers experiencing cold or fever symptoms to take time off, and to put in place teleworking and staggered working hours to reduce the risk of infection. 9 countries (South Korea, Thailand, Micronesia, Tonga, Samoa, Israel, Kiribati, Solomon Islands, and Bhutan) call to restrict travel to Japan.
February 26 The Japanese government requests that all events over the following 2 weeks be postponed or cancelled.
February 27 A state of emergency is declared in Hokkaido, where there was significant infection; elementary, middle, and high schools are closed.
March 2 All elementary, middle, and high schools throughout the country are closed temporarily.
March 5 Entry to Japan from China and South Korea is restricted (all entrants must be isolated for 2 weeks in designated locations). Due to shortages of masks, the Act on Emergency Measures for Stabilizing Living Conditions of the Public is invoked, prohibiting their resale.
March 10 The Japanese government extends its demand of restraint from large events for another 10 days. Japan prohibits entry from northern and central Italy, San Marino, and parts of Iran (i.e. those who have lived in these areas over the previous 14 days are refused entry). Japan (excluding the cruise ship) has seen 568 total cases and 12 deaths, while the cruise ship saw 696 cases and 7 deaths.

Where Did the Coronavirus Come From? Rumor of Infected Bat Meat Sold at Seafood Market Takes Hold

Many of the original infected patients were found to have connections to a now-closed seafood wholesale market in Wuhan. There is believed to be a strong probability that bat meat sold there was the source of the virus. While bat meat is not a common food in Japan, it is used in Chinese traditional medicine. Since bats originally carried the SARS and MERS coronaviruses, it appears highly likely that bats are the source of this new coronavirus.

What Exactly is the Covid-19 Illness?

The novel coronavirus is a pathogen that causes fever and upper respiratory symptoms. There are six types of these pathogens known to cause human infection. Four of these are known to be cold viruses that spread in humans, and two are types of severe pneumonia virus transmitted from animals, and the latter includes viruses that can cause more severe diseases including the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

According to the World Health Organization, infection by the novel coronavirus primarily causes symptoms such as fever, coughing, and difficulty breathing. While the symptoms typically resemble the common cold, there have been cases of infection confirmed in patients without fever, and in some cases in people who have reported no subjective symptoms. If the infection progresses, it can cause pneumonia and, in the worst cases, deaths from complications such as kidney failure. While this fact has caused alarm around the world, it is said that most of the deaths have been in patients with chronic immune-compromising conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or heart or vascular disease.

It's Not Just Fever! Early Warning Signs to Be Aware Of

According to research into symptoms of the novel coronavirus by a Wuhan University hospital, while colds and flu-like symptoms appear in the later stages of infection, this virus does not have a fixed pattern when it comes to early symptoms. Cases have emerged where early stages of the novel coronavirus caused symptoms ranging from diarrhea, nausea, headaches, and digestive system discomfort to heart palpitations and a feeling of tightness in the chest.

It's important to be aware of this fact, because failing to respond appropriately in the absence of well-known early symptoms like fever runs the risk of allowing the infection to spread further.

On January 26th, the Chinese Ministry of Health announced that the average incubation period between infection and the appearance of symptoms is around ten days, with the shortest being one day and the longest recorded being 14 days. The mortality rate is currently thought to be around 3 - 4%, but the spread of the infection has not yet revealed the exact mortality rate nor how readily the disease progresses to more severe stages.

How Does the Novel Coronavirus Spread?

1. Droplet Infection

The virus is released with droplets emitted by the infected person's sneezing, coughing, saliva and so on. People become infected by absorbing this virus through the mouth and nose.

Common sites of infection: Schools and workplaces, theaters, stations, crowded trains and other places where large groups of people gather.

2. Infection Through Contact

An infected person sneezes or coughs into their hand. The virus transfers to areas the infected person touches, which then transfers to the hand of whoever touches the same area. The virus transfers again to infect the mucus membranes when that person touches areas like their mouth or nose.

Common sites of infection: Handles on public transport, doorknobs, switches, etc.

Plan Ahead to Keep Safe! Prevention Strategies for the Novel Coronavirus

What kind of precautions should we take to avoid catching the novel coronavirus? 

It's important that everyone take care of their overall health and keep basic hygiene principles in mind in order to prevent infection. Basic hygiene includes frequently washing hands with soap, using alcohol disinfectants, and gargling. WHO recommends using soap and running water to wash the hands for at least twenty seconds, ensuring that the areas between the fingers and nail areas are completely cleaned. If you can't wash your hands, using antibacterial hand sanitizers can also be effective.

Since viruses transferred to the hands can infect the body through the eyes, nose, and mouth, it's important to remember not to touch your face with unwashed hands. It's best practice to wash your hands whenever you arrive home, before meals, and so on.

It’s also important to wear a mask. Human-to-human transmission has been problematic source of infection in both China and in Japan. All that can be done to prevent this is to avoid touching others as much as possible. It’s vital to wear a mask, as this is regarded as effective in preventing the spread of viruses carried by droplets emitted when coughing and sneezing. Wearing a mask can be considered a precautionary measure in crowded areas, especially in poorly-ventilated buildings and vehicles. However, they have not been found to be particularly effective in less crowded outdoor spaces.

Another factor to keep in mind is that not just any type of mask will do. Inexpensive masks are typically made of a non-woven fabric, which can't provide complete protection against the outside air. These masks can also be uncomfortable to wear for long periods of time, and don’t come with extra functionality to help prevent infection. In order to more effectively protect airways such as the nose and throat, it may be better to choose high-performance products with "virus droplets", "super-breathable filter", and "PM 2.5" written on the package. Considering the price difference is only a few hundred yen, it’s wiser to invest in high-performance masks.

The correct way to wear a mask is to snugly fit it to the face ensuing there are no gaps between the nose and mouth. It's also best to regularly replace the mask every day or so. Be sure to combine mask wearing with other prevention methods like avoiding crowds.

Be Cautious About Animal Products and Get Enough Rest

Avoiding eating raw and partially-cooked animal products is also said to be a good strategy for preventing infection. It's also best to avoid close exposure for extended periods of time to anyone with a fever or who is coughing.

A weakened immune system also increases the risk of infection, so it's also important to get enough rest and eat well to ensure that your immune system remains in good shape.

Japanese Government's Border Control Measures

Tokyo's Narita and Haneda Airports have set up lanes for passengers from China, Hong Kong and Macau that screens for fever and other signs of infection. Measures to separate those with Hubei-issued Chinese passports and who have been in Hubei Province in the last two weeks have also been put into place, now that their entry into the country is restricted.

Posters in Japanese, Chinese, and English informing travelers that entry into Japan from Hubei is not permitted have also been posted in border control booths.

In order to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, airport staff are encouraged to wear masks, and cleaning routines have also been strengthened to ensure doorknobs, handrails, luggage cart handles are regularly disinfected. Hand-sanitizing stations have also been installed throughout the terminals in order to encourage travelers to take their own preventative measures.

What to Do if You're Concerned About the Novel Coronavirus in Japan

Japanese National Tourism Organization (JNTO) runs the Japan Visitor Hotline, a call center is designed to ensure the health and safety of foreign travelers by providing multilingual support 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. This hotline can also assist with information about the novel coronavirus, so please contact them if you have any concerns during your travels.

Phone number: 050-3816-2787
Hours: 24 hours a day, 365 days a year
Languages supported: English, Chinese, Korean, Japanese
Support provided: Emergency information (illness and accidents), disaster information, general tourism enquiries.

Key Consultation Topics
Cancellation Fees
・Who to contact for a refund when you need to cancel a hotel booking.
Health Concerns
・You want to be tested for novel coronavirus after developing a cough or fever.
・Symptoms like cough or fever have developed in guests at a hotel.


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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.

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