As a former business journalist for The Economist and a clinical psychologist treating health anxiety, I have watched in admiration as Japan’s economy has stayed open during the coronavirus panic. Now pressure is mounting to lock down the country. I beg Japan’s government not to succumb; a plea on behalf of the world’s poorest.

People from affluent countries are tragically ignorant about economics. Nobody who demands any government to lock down is thinking of the millions of lives lifted out of poverty each year as businesses expand, invest and create jobs.

The affluent mourn each life devastated by the virus at home but not the life of a father in a village in Vietnam who loses a job which paid for his daughter’s cancer treatment. Japan will suffer unimaginably too — it has its poor.

Japan has avoided a lockdown because the public mostly trusts its government’s advice. Western media, by contrast, have bullied their governments into hasty action, undermined public confidence and fanned the flames of panic.

And the world is in pathological panic. We must look past each individual death, however tragic, and understand that when everyone is tested, coronavirus mortality is close to that of regular flu. Yes, isolate the vulnerable and sick, but allow healthy people to work, shop and spend. Most who catch COVID-19 recover. The media, with its extreme reactions to every case, never reflects on this truth for long. Because a deep depression will cost lives — and likely many more.

Anxious humans overestimate risk and will engage in bizarre rituals — “safety behaviors” — to protect them from imagined tragedy. It is the job of responsible governments to calm the fearful, not mirror their panic. I beg the Japanese government to understand this. The future of the world’s poorest is at stake.

Sameena Ahmad
Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo

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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