TIME

The right way out

THERE IS BOTH PROMISE AND PERIL IN BEING a pioneer, and the people of Hokkaido have learned both lessons well over the past few months. After infections of COVID-19 on the Japanese island exploded following its annual winter festival this year, officials in February declared a state of emergency to control the disease. Soon after, new daily cases plummeted, and Hokkaido’s quick action was heralded as a beacon for the rest of Japan to follow.

But it wasn’t just infections that dropped; over the next month, agriculture and tourism business also dried up, and Hokkaido’s governor decided to ease social restrictions. However, compliance with limits on social interaction after weeks of sequestering was harder this time around. Within a month, Hokkaido’s new COVID-19 infections jumped by 80%, and the governor had to reinstate lockdown policies.

There are similar stories from Singapore, Hong Kong and Germany, and all serve as sobering lessons for the decisionmakers in the U.S. who are under increasing pressure to reopen the country to reactivate its stalled economy. The tension is built into the pandemic: while public-health metrics all point toward extended social isolation and a more gradual reopening of society, the decisions are made by politicians. Already, some state governors are allowing businesses such as nail salons, barbershops and gyms to reopen to prevent bankruptcies and economic ruin.

How to proceed? The U.S. urgently needs to restart, but no economy can function if an infectious disease like COVID-19 continues to sicken the workforce and keep customers to a trickle. More than a million Americans have had the disease, but it is not yet known

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