Emperor Naruhito’s Gratitude for Frontline Pandemic Responders
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Respect for Medical Responders
On April 10, Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako met with the vice-chair of the government’s expert panel on the response to COVID-19, Dr. Omi Shigeru. The meeting was scheduled to last for 40 minutes, starting at 5:30 pm, but ended up continuing until 7:00.
At the outset of the meeting, the emperor expressed his appreciation to Omi and all the other medical staff at the frontlines of the response to the epidemic: “I want to convey my deepest respect and appreciation for your tireless efforts to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak as vice chair of the government’s expert panel, and for working day and night together with many other people involved in providing healthcare and other required services.”
The emperor also expressed his concern that the number of COVID-19 patients around the world has been rising: “The novel coronavirus is now rampant around the world. In Japan as well, even though an explosive outbreak of infections has been avoided so far thanks to everyone’s cooperation and efforts, I am still deeply concerned about the situation, particularly the rapid increase of persons infected in recent weeks, particularly in Tokyo and other large cities. This situation seems to have begun placing pressure on the medical-care system, and the government has also declared an emergency.”
Emperor Naruhito also conveyed the following thoughts: “The current pandemic is a great test for humanity as a whole, and has placed the lives of many people in Japan at risk. This makes me keenly aware of the difficulties that so many people are facing. My heartfelt wish is that everyone will come together as one, joining forces to bring the pandemic under control and overcome this great difficulty we now face.”
A Moment to Come Together
The world in the past has suffered from wars, famines, and epidemics. Today, as well, there are many people suffering around the world. Faced with the present crisis of the COVID-19 epidemic, the thoughts of the emperor and empress are on the people in Japan and throughout the world who are facing this danger.
During the meeting with the imperial couple, recalls Omi, the emperor repeated several times that this is “a moment for everyone to come together as one.”
During the meeting, Omi began by explaining the benefits of social distancing and some of the characteristics of COVID-19, including its transmission from asymptomatic carriers and the fact that in around 80% of the cases the symptoms are mild.
The emperor asked what needed to be done to avoid an explosive spike in cases, and how COVID-19 differed from the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak in 2002–3. Emperor Naruhito also observed that the disease is one that requires everyone in the country to work together to overcome the crisis, and that the awareness of each individual is important to that effort.
The emperor’s comments, which touched on the differences between the situations in Japan and Europe and the worrisome fact that children and young people are also being infected with the disease, reflected the close attention he has been paying to the crisis.
Concern for Those on the Medical Frontlines
Omi notes: “His Majesty clearly conveyed his concern about the inconveniences that people are facing now in their daily life, as well as his hope that everyone will be able to overcome these challenges. He also expressed sympathy for the frontline medical workers who are working so hard every day in this stressful situation. He very clearly conveyed to me this feeling of empathy he has for those workers and his hope that they can maintain their own health to get through this crisis.”
Since his ascension to the throne in May 2019, Emperor Naruhito has taken up his role as “the symbol of the State and of the unity of the People” described in Article 1 of the Constitution. Looking at past emperors, we can easily imagine that this can be a difficult and lonely path. The emperor’s feelings regarding his role are clear in his statements about the importance of people coming together to overcome the crisis and his appreciation of the hardships of medical staff.
As his comments suggest, what is important for him now is to accurately grasp the situation and be at the side of the people. As specialists pursue a solution to the pandemic, the emperor and empress will consider the needs of people who might be overlooked or who face further difficulties. In seeking to be at the side of such people, they are obtaining information from various perspectives, including those of experts and frontline workers, so that they can fulfill their role.
(Originally published in Japanese on FNN’s Prime Online on April 13, 2020. Written by Fuji TV News Analyst Hashimoto Satoshi. Translated and edited by Nippon.com.)
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