Thursday, May 28, 2009


When I flew to the Netherlands last week, I left behind a country of anxious people. A couple of days earlier Japan experienced its very own H1N1 (previously known as swine flu) outbreak, it started with just a few infected high school students in the weekend to almost 300 confirmed cases in the Osaka-Kobe region the day I left. In Osaka, people were already panicking when the government closed more than 4,800 schools and universities, and urged everybody to wear face masks and gargle in an effort to protect themselves from the new flu. Creating an even greater panic among the Japanese and a shortage of face masks.
Not wanting to panic, I did some research online about the flu and learned that H1N1 flu is not nearly as deadly as the regular seasonal flu. And that wearing a face mask won’t protect you from the H1N1 flu at all:
If you are not sick you do not have to wear a mask.
If you are caring for a sick person, you can wear a mask when you are in close contact with the ill person and dispose of it immediately after contact, and cleanse your hands thoroughly afterwards.
If you are sick and must travel or be around others, cover your mouth and nose.
Using a mask correctly in all situations is essential. Incorrect use actually increases the chance of spreading infection.
I hate wearing a mask, it’s the most uncomfortable thing you can do, especially when it’s as hot as it is in Japan. So I was very happy to find out they are in fact useless against the H1N1 flu, and that you only need to wear one when you are sick yourself. But try explaining that to a Japanese person, they don’t want to hear it. They get this false sense of security from wearing a mask and don’t even know that incorrect use could actually increase the risk of transmission, rather than reduce it. But even today, when schools are open again and even the government has loosened its flu-regulations, I found this news clip on Japan Probe of people standing in line for several hours from as early as 7AM, hoping to buy some face masks at Takarazuka city hall. They only had 500 boxes and they probably weren’t cheap and totally useless to begin with:
The day before I flew home, headquarters ordered all the staff in our school to wear face masks... Well, I don’t mind donning one to take a funny picture with the other foreigners in the school, but like I said I hate face masks, they take away my ability to breather properly, so soon I found a better place to wear it than on my face:
Sometimes I just can’t understand the Japanese mindset. For some reason they’re more comfortable following orders and simply doing what everyone else does without asking any questions, instead of thinking for themselves. Even if that means living in a state of panic and fear, and spending fortunes to turn face mask manufacturers into millionaires. I would like to urge all Japanese to stop spending your time and money on obtaining useless face masks, and to spend just a few minutes on the internet to find out how dangerous this flu really is (or isn’t), and what you can actually do to protect yourself from it. 

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