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Edition 6 - Opinion

Life on the ground during the Coronavirus

The headlines are right in expressing the seriousness of the Coronavirus, however, the 24-hour news cycle is not doing justice to an important part of life in Japan during this unfolding outbreak.

One thing I’ve noticed in my career is that air travel tends to house the first clues that a country, or the world, is on the cusp of something. Those of you who remember travelling before 9/11 will know that, even before it was clear who perpetrated the events and how, getting through airport security was immediately and irreversibly changed.

Late last year, we were closely following reports of a virus, starting as an unknown outbreak in Wuhan, which was making its way outside the Hubei Province. A flight I took between Tokyo and Beijing a couple of months ago, before travel bans were put in place, cemented in my mind that what soon became known as ‘the Coronavirus’ (officially Covid-19) was going to be an ongoing, serious concern for authorities.

The familiar, routine airport experience was punctuated with mandatory fever checks and hand sanitisation, and just about everyone in sight was wearing a mask. It was an orderly experience, contrary to what you might think – everyone I saw was willingly and calmly following instructions at security checkpoints. The dining hall was one of the more obvious signs of fear brewing, with travellers staying away from buying and eating food in public.

Not long after, celebrations for Lunar New Year were cancelled in Beijing, travel restrictions were enforced in China and worldwide, and the Coronavirus evolved into what we now know is a highly contagious, often deadly virus – much like other viruses in its family (they include the common cold and SAR).1

 

The rapid spread of information about the Coronavirus is, no doubt, helpful in raising awareness among global communities. However, even as the World Health Organisation (WHO) has pointed out, inaccurate information about the spread and treatments for the virus is also proliferating, and it is dangerously unhelpful.2

In my view, the rapid spread of information is also not capturing the harmonies between people, government and workplaces that I’m seeing in countries like Japan, where I live. To my mind, this is a hugely important and effective part of the management and recovery process.

One thing that is clear, en masse, is the sense of responsibility on an individual level to take action. Almost immediately after the Coronavirus was identified, a renewed focus on hygiene swept streets and offices. Ready access to, and use of, hand sanitizer and masks is one of the most visible signs of this. Even when people are at very low risk of infection, where they don’t feel quite right, they’re self-isolating and keeping their work and communities informed.

The willing and immediate cooperation across borders in Asia has also been abundantly clear. In the case of AMP Capital, the daily calls between our offices mirror what I see in the broader community – a quick, generous and effective drive to help. As one example, masks are in high demand right now, complicated by disrupted trade routes. I’ve seen teams across borders balance supply and demand between several Asian headquarters for our staff, with speed and priority, no questions asked.

In my view, the rapid spread of information is also not capturing the harmonies between people, government and workplaces."

These behaviours mirror something I’ve come to learn about Japanese culture, which is that a sense of duty to community and collectivism is woven into its fabric. Many people would know this about Japan if they’ve visited, and I’m seeing how this framework for life is mobilising a nation to protect itself and its neighbours.

In fact, the highest office in Japan is relying on, and recognising, the power of a community that is mobilised to help and respond. This weekend, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Saturday announced a 270 billion yen (US$2.5 billion) emergency economic package to help fight the Coronavirus. A critical part of his message when he announced this package was the necessity for public support to fight the outbreak.

 

“Frankly speaking, this battle cannot be won solely by the efforts of the government,” Abe said. “We cannot do it without understanding and cooperation from every one of you, including medical institutions, families, companies and local governments,” Abe said.

It’s an uncertain and significant time for Japan and the broader Asia region. But as I’ve seen in the airports, the streets of Tokyo and in our workplace, the sense of community is strong and palpable, bringing a great deal of confidence in the power of people to get through this period, and into recovery.

Important Notes

While every care has been taken in the preparation of these articles, AMP Capital Investors Limited (ABN 59 001 777 591, AFSL 232497) makes no representation or warranty as to the accuracy or completeness of any statement in them including, without limitation, any forecasts. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. Performance goals are merely goals. There is no guarantee that the strategy will achieve that level of performance. The information in this document contains statements that are the author’s beliefs and/or opinions. Any beliefs and/or opinions shared are as at the date shown and are subject to change without notice. These articles have been prepared for the purpose of providing general information, without taking account of any particular investor’s objectives, financial situation or needs. They should not be construed as investment advice or investment recommendations. An investor should, before making any investment decisions, consider the appropriateness of the information in this document, and seek professional advice, having regard to the investor’s objectives, financial situation and needs. This document is solely for the use of the party to whom it is provided and must not be provided to any other person or entity without the express written consent of AMP Capital.

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