Novel coronavirus (9) Serious issues concerning dissemination of information on coronavirus

11 February, 2020

Dear HIFA Community,

I live in Japan, and I've been checking news about the novel coronavirus on various official government websites every day. I noticed several serious issues concerning information dissemination via the internet. Sorry it's so long but I thought that these issues were worth sharing, as they need to be resolved urgently.

1. As some of you may be aware, the number of foreigners living in Japan has been increasing in recent years. In order to help such foreigners, many government websites started to use an automatic translation service so residents can access information about living in Japan in different languages (English, Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese and Korean). The Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare also uses this system. In theory, you should be able to access the Ministry's coronavirus information page below by clicking this system at the top left corner of this page:

2. When you select a language option, a box appears with a brief warning: "Note that the machine translation system doesn't guarantee 100% correctness." However, the actual translation is so poor that it's difficult to even make sense of the language. It is almost not worth using this computer translation because of the risk of misinforming the reader. I tried using Google translate, which resulted in a much better translation but still not perfect.

3. The Ministry's website guides the reader to other websites for further information, but these are not necessarily available in the other languages. So it wastes the reader's time.

4. Even worse is when the government office has actually gone to the trouble to make original web pages in English/Chinese/Korean but they don't reflect the Japanese website, so you can't follow the links. For example, a page on the Prime Minister and Cabinet office website lists the prefectural office webpages (where you can find out who to contact if you have a suspected infection), but if you click on English at the top of this page, it takes you to the top of the site which doesn't even mention the virus:

5. There are also a) broken links; and b) outdated links.

6. Perhaps the most serious issue is the lack of cross-referencing between webpages. For example, tourists who want information about medical facilities are directed to the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) website on "Guide for when you are feeling ill", but this page has no information about coronavirus; in fact the advice on this page contradicts the advice on the Health Ministry's page.

On the other hand, I saw that the JNTO recently issued a press release about a coronavirus hotline for tourists (see below), but I don't see it publicized on the Ministry of Health's pages:

I appreciate that every health agency is under pressure at this moment, but if you consider that a major containment strategy is to monitor infections among returnees and people visiting from China, then you see the problem with not having good language translation (especially Chinese in this case!).

I would be grateful if someone could pass the above information to the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. I made a comparative table showing the differences between Japanese-English translations if anyone wants to have a look (although I noticed that it is already out of date). I can also help with future translations if they need help. My email is Thank you and apologies for such a long post.


HIFA profile: Jenny Yamamoto is a Doctoral student at Hiroshima University, Japan. She previously worked on transport issues at the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok. Currently, she is interested in mobility and access to health services in rural areas in both developed (Japan) and developing countries (South Asia). As part of her research, she will also consider the ways in which communication technologies and mapping of health information can contribute to better health outcomes.