How to shelter in the event of a natural disaster during the coronavirus pandemic

Even as Japan grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, the country is never free from the risk of natural disasters. Earthquakes, typhoons, even volcanic eruptions, could strike at any moment. In such an event, residents would have to evacuate to shelters where they face the risk of infection. We spoke to Shigeru Sakurai, an infectious disease control expert at Iwate Medical University, about how we can stay safe in a shelter amid the pandemic.

What to bring

You should prepare items such as masks, alcohol-based disinfectants, and a thermometer before going to a shelter.

Many local governments do not have their own mask supplies so it is important to bring your own. If you don’t have any, you can use towels to cover your nose and mouth instead. And if you don’t have alcohol-based solutions, moist tissues can be used.

Check your condition beforehand

The best way to prevent the spread of infection is to make sure you aren’t sick. Always check your condition before going to a shelter. Make sure to look for symptoms such as fever, cough, and general listlessness, and also check your temperature.

For shelter operators, it is vital to prepare rooms where people suspected of being infected can be isolated. For example, if a school is used as a shelter, the gymnasium can be used for most people, while classrooms can be dedicated to those who are displaying symptoms.

How do we avoid infection after entering the shelter?

It’s important to avoid the three Cs—closed places, conversations in close proximity, and crowded areas. Rooms should be ventilated as much as possible and you should maintain a distance of two meters from other people. Sitting back-to-back or using cardboard partitions is also effective.

Wash your hands thoroughly with soap before eating or after going to the bathroom. Use hand sanitizer when available. Repeat after touching doors or handrails.

It’s also important to continue checking on your condition every day after entering the shelter. If you observe any changes in temperature or if you start to display symptoms, alert the shelter operators immediately.

Recent evacuation measures amid heavy rain

On March 11, the government of Shibecha Town in the eastern part of the prefecture issued an evacuation order to its roughly 2,300 residents during torrential rains. Part of the population went to shelters. According to an official, the shelters all had disinfectant at their entrances to the shelters. Inside, floor mats were used to create partitions so evacuees could avoid being in close proximity with each other.

Natural disasters won’t wait until the virus subsides in Japan. With the rainy season coming up, it is especially important for emergency measures to be in place beforehand.

The Cabinet Office recommends that residents also consider having plans in place to stay with relatives or acquaintances to avoid having to go to crowded shelters.

Now’s the time to think about these things; it’ll be too late to do so once disaster strikes.