As a Japanese medical student studying in the U.K., I had watched with pride and comfort that Japan seemed to be limiting its COVID-19 case numbers despite being so close to the source. A country of efficiency, sanitation and respect. I was reassured that if any country could contain the disease, it would be my home.

But now, with new cases jumping, I am worried.

I hear from my grandmother in Tokyo that people are still filling the cafes, restaurants and parks. And I am afraid. Afraid of what they will have to pay for their complacency.

Because in the U.K., we had been slow to act and we are only just starting to see what we have done.

Hundreds of people are dying daily.

The intensive therapy units (ITUs) are full. Doctors and nurses are falling ill.

We’re running out of masks, gowns, goggles.

And the worst is still yet to come.

The government has called up anyone who could help: My doctor friend is now running a district hospital. She has not practiced anything other than ophthalmology for 20 years. Another is being sent away from family to a district hospital. My professors who work in the hospital have not seen their family for weeks: They cannot risk giving them the virus. Examinations for seniors in the final year of my medical school have been canceled: They’re needed in the hospitals.

And now I have been asked to join them.

The government declared a lockdown last week — shops, cafes and restaurants closed — but it’s come too late. The numbers will keep rising. The damage has been done and we just do not have enough beds, ventilators, doctors, nurses or equipment to meet the consequences.

We are worried. And the country is preparing for the worst.

They have built a morgue on my street.

We hear of people who visited their parents just a couple of days before — unknown that they were carrying the virus. Now the parents are in the hospital.

You might think you’re fine. Fine because you’re healthy and young. But your parents may not be. Neither may your neighbors, friends or their parents. You might think you’re just popping round to say hi to your relatives. But you never know how many people you could’ve infected with that coffee trip. Many are asymptomatic carriers and you are no exception. You do not want to be the reason your parents are hospitalized.

Or worse.

This disease — there is nothing glorious about this battle. You die alone. In isolation, in ITU, separated from family. For some who enter the hospital it is the last time they see their families.

I do not want to panic anyone. But this is what will happen if we don’t act now. It is not too late yet for Japan. I am writing this because I am worried for my home, and what will happen if we don’t act now. Japan still has a chance. This is not a war that the government or hospitals can fight alone. We each have to take responsibility. Not just for ourselves, but for our neighbors, our relatives.

So please. Stay at home. Not for your own sake, but for those you love.

Moe Takenoshita

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

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