It has been a little over a year since the first Covid-19 news reports were broadcasted in Japan. I remember quite vividly when reporters and specialists at the time spoke about a “new virus from China” that is spreading, but we “shouldn’t panic.” We all know what happened next. Japan had its first state of emergency last April, during which most people did everything they could to stay indoors. Shops were closed, cafes too, most companies that could afford it, encouraged their staff to work from home. At the time, most of us obliged because the prevailing sentiment was that if we all were just a bit patient, the virus would miraculously vanish.

And for a while, it looked like everyone’s efforts paid off. As the numbers of new infections got lower and lower in the summer, people gradually started to return to everyday life. The government relaxed too — it pushed the Go To Travel campaign and encouraged people to start traveling. It later launched the Go To Eat campaign too, encouraging people to dine out and spend more money outside, to keep the economy running. Meanwhile, medical experts looked at all that and vocally opposed it, saying that the situation would get out of control if we aren’t careful.

And it did. On New Year’s Eve, 2020, Tokyo reported a daily record-high of 1,337 new Covid cases, the first time the number surpassed 1,000. A week later, on January 7, the numbers had peaked at 2,447. On that same day, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declared a second state of emergency in Tokyo and its three neighboring prefectures, Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama. On January 13, Suga expanded the state of emergency to seven additional prefectures: Tochigi, Osaka, Gifu, Aichi, Hyogo, Kyoto and Fukuoka. It was a move that finally took place — but it was too little too late.

Despite the second state of emergency, the rapidly surging numbers and the alarming messages that many medical experts in Japan have been passing on, however, Japan is struggling to understand why many people are indifferent about it. For many, life remains as usual — and, to be honest, they are not entirely to blame. Some members of the government continue dining out in groups, shops remain open, people are out and about. And there’s no real surprise here, as the government failed to provide proper financial compensation to businesses and individuals who are affected by the pandemic.

As a result, for many, Covid remains somewhat unreal, something we see on TV and fear, but naively believe it won’t happen to us.

So if reporting the daily statistics doesn’t seem to work, what does? Perhaps, one of the answers could be sharing real voices and stories.

Launched as an initiative by Nippon TV’s news program News Zero, the hashtag #KansenShitakaraTsutaetai (#感染したから伝えたい), which translates to, “What I’d like to share with everyone (after contracting Covid),” calls for former or current Covid-19 patients (or friends and relatives) to share their stories in order “to reduce the number of people suffering (because of the virus) in the same way.” The hashtag has been trending on Twitter since its launch earlier this year and the stories being shared remind us that “only once” is enough to contract the virus and that no one is immune to it.

Here are several of these stories.

Translation: A friend of mine became infected with Covid last fall. Then her whole family got infected. The condition of her parents, both elderly, got worse and they had to be hospitalized. Her mother recovered, but her father passed away. From that day on, my friend told me that she is living with the thought that she killed his father.

Translation: My husband couldn’t decline a dinner offer by his superior at work, and so he went. He got infected during that dinner and brought the virus home to me and our 1-year-old child. Our child’s first fever was because of Covid. My first PCR test was negative, but a week later, I got high fever and I’m still living with long-term effects like smell loss, which recently changed into a strong smell syndrome. Everything smells like burned plastic. I can’t stand eating or cooking.

Translation: I was only commuting from home to work. I haven’t been dining out, nor traveling. I only went out to the supermarket. I always wore a mask, always sanitized my hands. I was very careful. And yet, I got infected. It was tough thinking that everyone looked at me as someone who was “playing around.”

Translation: It started with joint pain, then high fever. Then came the cough and diarrhea. Then the loss of smell. I lost 7 kg. Then I started feeling really low about myself. I started thinking that everyone looks at me “that way.” Last mid-December, the public health center was on the verge of collapse.

Translation: Our CEO hid from everyone that he had fever and felt extreme fatigue, and kept coming to work. He later took the PCR test and it came out positive. Half of our staff got infected. The boss’ son praised him for “working hard while being sick.” How irresponsible! I was really shocked to hear this.

Translation: My younger brother got infected last June. He felt so guilty and responsible, knowing that people would blame not only him, but our whole family. He kept apologizing through tears. Then my father got infected. He passed away last month. What I really want to say is, please don’t blame those who got infected.

Translation: I tested positive. My husband tested negative. He reported it to his company. I felt so sorry watching him apologizing over the phone to so many people. He told me that no one said “Get well soon.” Everyone was just concerned about how it affected them. My mother, aged past 80, cooked and brought food. I was moved by my family. When I recover, I want to return the favor.

Translation: I’m in my early 20s and I have Covid-19 after-effects. I have extreme fatigue, which pretty much forces me to spend most of my time in bed. My muscles have gotten weaker and I struggle to walk even a bit. I’m grateful when my friends call as I haven’t really been able to meet anyone lately. But after talking to them over the phone for a long time, I can’t wake up the next day. I’m spending these kinds of days.

Translation: My memory is fading from the moment I got to the hospital. It seems like they made CT scans and X-rays as soon as I got there. Blood tests. IV. They put my pillow higher. They attached an oxygen cannula to my nose and a catheter to my urethra. They put a paper diaper on me. And hospital gown, too. An electrocardiogram and oxygen saturation were also attached to my body. Thank you to all nurses. I don’t remember any of this at all. 

Translation: I live alone and the thing I struggle the most with now is food. A friend left some food in front of my door, but that’s going to finish very soon.

Translation: I think everyone who has been through this wants to express the same, but I just want to say that everyone who took care of me — the staff at the public health center, the medical staff, the people at the hotel (where under quarantine), they were all so kind to me. When they ask me how I feel, they always follow up with, “How about emotionally?” They tell me to talk about any concerns I have. I can’t say this in their face, but I am really grateful.

While sharing one’s story could be difficult, perhaps it is the best way to help everyone realize that what is happening is more serious than we could all imagine. If you have a story, an opinion, or would like to reach out to us about to this topic, please contact us at [email protected] Stay safe!