In a nation famed for its cutting-edge robots and toilets, one prefecture is going defiantly low-tech in its effort to defend its officials against COVID-19.

In what has been proudly dubbed a “Tottori-style office system,” the Tottori Prefectural Government has begun using cardboard and plastic sheets as partitions between officials’ desks.

The use of cardboard boxes, which was requested in a notice sent to officials Tuesday, has already been implemented in many divisions within the prefectural office where space constraints prevent staff from sitting two meters away from each other, said Hideki Maeta, a human resources official.

In fact, use of the partitions has even been adopted by other entities under the prefecture’s jurisdiction, such as tax offices, Maeta said.

“Almost all divisions have a stockpile of unused cardboard, so it’s a very low-cost, immediate way of reducing the risk of droplet infections,” the official said.

Tottori is one of only a few prefectures where not a single COVID-19 case had been confirmed as of Wednesday afternoon. But that doesn’t mean the prefecture is being complacent, Maeta said.

“We’re about to enter a phase where infections could grow exponentially, so we really need to stay on our toes,” he stressed.

“I hope this system will send out a message that even Tottori, where no infections have been reported yet, is being very vigilant.”

In the finance division, which is frequented by staff from all across the prefectural government to request budgets, officials have been conversing through a massive piece of cardboard with a square-shaped hole in the center. The hole is covered by a plastic sheet so that the speakers won’t be exposed to each other, Maeta explained.

Social media lit up with a mix of amazement and disbelief at Tottori’s initiative, with some baffled by what they took to be a contradiction with Japan’s reputation as a high-tech country.

“Wow, Japan is truly ahead of the world in technology,” Twitter user @eldrichames noted sarcastically.

Others wondered if it might even have been an April Fools’ Day joke, but Maeta categorically denied accusations of levity.

“We’re dead serious about this,” he said. “These small steps matter.”

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