The global coronavirus pandemic has been amplified in recent days by a growing mistrust between governments around the world.
China has been at the center of conspiracies claiming government officials have been understating case and death numbers. But Japan has recently come under fire as the nation’s reported coronavirus cases suddenly spiked just hours after announcing the cancellation of the Olympics in Tokyo.
In early March, many pointed to Japan as a beacon of hope in the global coronavirus crisis. The nation had efficiently gotten a handle on the virus before it spread out of control even as it multiplied in surrounding countries. Tokyo in particular, where the Olympics were due to be held, had been able to keep a lid on new cases.
But bubbling under the surface of Japan’s rosy numbers was speculation that the government wasn’t revealing the entire picture.
On Mar. 5, the executive director of Japan’s Medical Governance Research Institute Masahiro Kami said the number of cases, just 1,023 at the time, was the tip of the iceberg. Epidemiologist Hiroshi Nishiura said the rate of infection seen in Hokkaido was probably on par with that seen in Wuhan where the outbreak began.
Meanwhile, Japan’s Health Ministry denied allegations that it was purposely suppressing case numbers through limited testing.
On Mar. 24, the Olympic committee in Tokyo finally decided to postpone the games after weeks of deliberation. The news was a devastating blow to Tokyo, whose infrastructure was already prepared to host the event. Many pointed to the Olympics as a symbol of recovery for the city after it was rocked by an earthquake in 2011.
Hours after the announcement, Tokyo saw a pronounced spike in coronavirus cases. On Tuesday, the day the Olympics were postponed, 17 cases were reported. On Wednesday the number of new cases was 41. On Saturday, the number of new cases in Tokyo was 63.
The exponential rise sparked questions—was Tokyo purposely understating its coronavirus impact in order to hold on to the Olympics? Former Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama voiced his suspicion on Twitter saying the government prioritized the Olympics over its citizens.
The government was calm, cool and collected just days before announcing the Olympics would be postponed. Since then, there has been a marked increase in urgency among lawmakers.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe struck a cautionary note this weekend, warning that a state of emergency could be on the horizon:
Once infections overshoot, our strategy … will instantly fall apart.Under the current situation, we are just barely holding up.
Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike called on the city’s inhabitants to stay home over the weekend as the spike in cases suggested a worrying trend. Koike said the city was embarking on an
important phase in preventing an explosive rise in the number of infections.
Despite growing speculation about a cover-up, the Japanese government has been adamant that’s not the case. Abe dismissed reports that COVID-19 deaths were mislabeled saying,
I’m aware that some people suspect Japan is hiding the numbers, but I believe that’s not true. If there is a cover-up, it will show up in the number of deaths.
The speculation about Japan’s coronavirus numbers underscores a growing mistrust between governments around the world. Donald Trump has been quick to point to China as a leading example of misrepresentation,
British Cabinet Minister Michael Gove also pointed to China’s lack of clarity regarding the nature of the virus as reason for the U.K.’s inadequate testing supplies.
This article was edited by Sam Bourgi.