Yasutoshi Nishimura — the nation's COVID-19 point man — paused momentarily at one point during a recent news conference, seemingly debating internally how best to broach discussion of virus clusters among foreign residents, a subject that could be a lightning rod for criticism and claims of xenophobia if handled poorly.

Not all foreign residents, the minister leading the government's coronavirus response was careful to note, should be blamed for the spread of the virus. No prejudice or discrimination should be tolerated whatsoever, he said.

The caution with which Nishimura brought up the subject at the Nov. 12 briefing spoke volumes about its sensitivity, underlining the delicate balance the government is trying to strike between stopping foreign communities from becoming virus hot spots and preventing discrimination against them.