Kiwi scientist says New Zealand must follow Japan's lead amid coronavirus pandemic

A group of people in Japan wearing face masks
Almost everyone in Japan wore a mask when out in public. Photo credit: Getty.

Tracy Neal for RNZ.

A Nelson scientist says New Zealand should look to Japan for lessons in how to guard itself against a rising tide of pandemic panic.

Murray McClintock, his partner and their three children are now isolating themselves at home in Nelson, having returned from Japan a week ago.

He said the Japanese took a practical approach to their every-day responses to the spread and containment of Covid-19.

"Almost everybody dealing with the public wore a mask. It was very interesting to us from a New Zealand perspective because often we see masks as a sort of last resort, or something you might only wear if you're really sick."

McClintock said there was a lot of positive messaging daily, about looking out for other people.

"It seemed to be used as an opportunity for people to get really engaged with their community. There were announcements on the Metro for example, saying if you know someone who needs help you should help them, be kind.

"It really felt people were looking out for each other and there was a sense people were closely watching the situation but also not giving into panic and just dealing with what they could in the moment they were in."

McClintock said Asian countries did have the benefit of more experience in dealing with harmful viral outbreaks. He said he could not describe the population as having a "sense of calm" but it did have a sense of purpose.

"One advantage Japan has is that it was a lot closer to the (2003) Sars epidemic than New Zealand was.

"I travelled through Hong Kong during that time and it was an eye-opener for me. I think those countries with previous experience of having to mobilise a big population in tightly-packed cities against something like a pandemic are really well-organised, people get the messaging very clearly and very simply about what they have to do, and life carries on."

McClintock said Japan was relatively quiet, possibly because many were working from home which was a bigger cultural barrier there than it was here.

He said the family's decision to distance itself socially from the community at home was proving a valuable lesson for their children.

"As part of their learning we are tracking our temperatures morning and night. We're learning about what Covid-19 does to people - what the symptoms are, so hopefully we'll be fine.

"I'm quite sure we will be, but it's an interesting experience to go through."

McClintock said it was important to stick to the facts when communicating with children, and it was better to be too careful than too casual.