Govt rushes to dispel image of Japan as virus hotspot

TOKYO (The Japan News/ANN) - To present more information overseas about Japan’s measures to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, the  government has stepped up efforts.

The government has stepped up efforts to present more information overseas about Japan’s measures to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.
 When an outbreak of infection on the Diamond Princess cruise ship drew international attention in February, the government failed to get its message out promptly, leaving the impression that Japan was not responding well to the outbreak.
 In light of this, the government has held eight press conferences for the foreign media and six briefings for foreign diplomats based in Tokyo to give updates on the viral infection in Japan and its countermeasures. Overseas, Japanese embassies and consulates have provided such information to experts and the press and have also shared it through social media. 
 Behind this is a bitter lesson learned from the spread of critical views over Japan’s handling of the viral outbreak on the cruise ship. The criticism, such as that the infection spread on board, came mainly from the U.S. and European media.
 According to a senior Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry official, the government decided to keep passengers aboard the ship because there were no facilities to accommodate them if a large number of passengers with the possibility of having the virus were to disembark. 
 However, Japan failed to quickly explain such circumstances to the foreign media. 
 “There was no choice but to rely on the health ministry because the content of information such as on infectious diseases was far from the Foreign Ministry’s expertise,” a senior Foreign Ministry official said. 
 Despite its attempt to disseminate experts’ views by translating them into English, the ministry was slow to respond as it took a day for the relevant ministries and agencies to coordinate. 
 However, the tone of the foreign media coverage began to change after the government increased efforts to send out more information.
 The New York Times previously criticized the Japanese government’s handling harshly, such as by publishing an article in its Feb. 26 electronic edition that was contributed by a Japanese professor who claimed, “The Japanese government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak has been staggeringly incompetent.”
 On March 2, however, the U.S. newspaper published a rebuttal by Japanese Foreign Ministry press secretary Masato Otaka, who wrote, “The government has taken bold and timely measures.” The comments it used after that included one by Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi. In an article on the U.S. company that operates the cruise ship, Motegi was quoted as saying, “Japan is not the only state that is obliged to conduct measures to prevent the expansion of infection.”