This article originally appeared on VICE Asia.
Paranoia has been high the past months, ever since the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak started. As of writing, there have been 76,723 confirmed cases and 2,247 deaths around the world. After the World Health Organization declared the disease a global health emergency, medical supplies, face masks, toilet paper, and alcohol have been flying off of shelves at supermarkets and drugstores in Asia. With false rumours about the virus becoming rampant online, it’s best we not let the paranoia overwhelm us.
In Japan, where millions of residents ride packed trains daily, the fear of being infected can quickly get to you. On February 18, at approximately 8 p.m., the train cars bound for Hashimoto from Tenjin Minami on the Nanakuma Line in Fukuoka City came to a halt when a resident pushed the emergency stop button over someone onboard coughing without a face mask on, Sora News 24 reported.
The man then shamelessly reported the incident over the intercom, and reported his fellow passenger for coughing. After disrupting everyone else’s commute, the train made an emergency stop at the nearest station where staff spoke to both men.
The man who coughed explained that he was not wearing a mask because none were available in stores. The two eventually reconciled and waited for the next train to arrive, but the incident already affected Japan’s usually on-time train system. The train was delayed by three minutes, a long time for the usually punctual Japanese.
According to a Fukuoka City Subway representative, what the overly-cautious man did had never happened before, even when a regular flu is going around.
“Why would someone stop a train because of a mask?” he said.
He’s not the only one confused about the situation. “Getting into arguments with coughing strangers on a train is a great way to get the saliva flying,” one resident said. “I understand his stress, it creeps me out seeing unmasked people spluttering and whatnot on the train,” said another. One even quipped, “Stopping the train just prolongs the time you spend together. Idiot.”
More residents also gave their suggestions about the incident, saying: “The other guy really should have used a handkerchief or towel instead.” Another demanded there be “mask-only” train cars.
"We'd like to ask people to refrain from pushing the emergency notification button just because there is someone without a mask,” a Bureau official told newspaper The Mainichi. “We're calling on passengers to show proper manners when they cough and want to publicise this more."