“Teacher, I’m very sorry. I can’t meet you for my English lesson because of Corona-san.”

At first I wasn’t sure if my student, who is in her early 70s, had made a joke. But she wasn’t jesting. She had purposely added the honorific “san” to the coronavirus, as if it were an honored person. Like “nikuya-san” for a butcher or “isha-san” for a doctor, the coronavirus has become a part of our lives, and thus, in its own way, demands respect.

New Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will have to respect the virus, too. Recent economic data shows that Japan’s gross domestic product shrank by 7.8 percent in the second economic quarter. This suggests that a lot of businesses are having to paddle considerably harder just to keep their heads above water.