Japan is a coronavirus success story that has been sweeping the globe in a matter of days.
Daily COVID-19 new cases have fallen from an August peak of almost 6,000 in Tokyo. Caseloads in densely populated areas are now below 100, an eleven-month low.
The bars are packed and the trains crowded. There is a celebratory mood despite general confusion about the cause of the sharp drop.
Japan has not experienced a lockdown like other countries in Europe or Asia. It has only experienced a few relatively unimportant states of emergency.
Japan’s success could be due to a late but very rapid vaccination campaign, the emptying of many nightlife areas because of fears that spread during the recent surge of cases, and a widespread practice of wearing masks in August, long before the pandemic.
Experts worry that Japan may face another wave of cases like the one in which Japan experienced a severe spike in deaths and hospital overcrowding this summer. However, vaccine efficacy is slowly declining and winter is approaching.
Many people credit the vaccination campaign for reducing infections, particularly among young people. Nearly 70% of the population has been fully vaccinated.
Dr. Kazuhiro Tatta, a professor of virology at Toho University, said that “rapid and intense vaccinations in Japan for those under 64 may have created a temporary condition comparable to herd-immunity.”
Tateda observed that vaccination rates rose in July and September as the more dangerous delta variant spread fast.
However, he cautioned that the U.S., Britain, and other countries where inoculations started months earlier than in Japan showed that vaccines are not perfect and that efficacy slowly wears off.
Japan began its vaccinations in February, with elderly and health workers being the first to receive them. Despite the shortage of vaccines imported, progress was slow until May when supplies stabilized. Daily inoculation targets were increased to more than 1 million to ensure protection against the July 23-August 8 Olympics.
The daily doses of vaccines rose to 1.5 million in July. This pushed vaccination rates up from 15% in early juillet to 65% in October. It was higher than the 57% in the United States.
Just weeks before the Olympics, daily new cases rose dramatically. Japan was forced to host the Games with more than 5,000 cases in Tokyo each day and around 20,000 across the country in the early part of August. Tokyo had 40 cases on Sunday. This is below 100 for the ninth consecutive day and the lowest number this year. Japan reported 429 cases Sunday, a nation-wide total of approximately 1.71 million and 18,000 deaths respectively since the pandemic started in early last year.
Hence, why is there a drop?
Norio Ohmagari, Director of Disease Control and Prevention Center, said, “It’s hard to answer and we must consider the impact of the vaccinations advances, which are extremely large.” “At the exact same time, those who gather in high risk environments such as crowded or less-ventilated areas may have already been infected and have acquired natural immunity.”
Some speculate that the decrease in cases could be due to lower testing. However, Tokyo metropolitan government data shows that the positivity rate dropped from 25% in August to 1% mid-October while the number tested fell by one-third. Masataka Inokuchi of the Tokyo Medical Association, deputy chief, stated that falling positivity rates indicate that infections have slowed down.
Japan’s emergency measures did not include lockdowns, but instead focused on bars and restaurants. They were asked to close their doors early and stop serving alcohol. People continued to commute by crowded trains and attended cultural and sporting events at stadiums that had some social distancing.
The government has ended the emergency requests and is slowly expanding social and economic activity. It also allows package tours and athletic events on a trial basis, using increased testing and vaccination certificates.
In order to speed up vaccinations, Yoshihide Sug, a former Prime Minister, increased the legal eligibility of health workers to give shots. He also opened large-scale vaccination centres and encouraged workplace vaccinations, which began in June.
Hiroshi Nishiura, a Kyoto University professor, stated that vaccinations have saved over 7,200 lives and helped 650,000 people avoid getting infected between March and September.
Experts initially blamed young people for spreading the virus. However, data shows that many people in their 40s and 50s frequent nightlife districts. The most serious cases and deaths occurred among those who were not vaccinated in their 50s and younger.
Takaji Wakita is the director of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases. He told reporters that he was concerned people may have resumed drinking in nightlife areas, and noted that the slowing down of infections might have already reached its bottom.
Wakita stated Thursday that “it is important to continue pushing down the caseloads in the event of a future outbreak of infections.”
Fumio Kishida, the new Prime Minister, stated Friday that a preparedness plan would be created by November. It would have stricter restrictions on activities and require hospitals and other healthcare facilities to provide COVID-19 treatment for patients in the event of an “worst-case” scenario.
He didn’t go into detail.
People are often cautious about dropping their guard regardless of the numbers.
Mizuki Kawano, a university student, said that mask-wearing has “become so common.” She said that she was still concerned about the virus.
Alice Kawaguchi, Alice’s friend, said that she didn’t want to be too close to people who don’t wear masks.
Experts in public health want to know why there has been a drop in infections.
A GPS analysis revealed that the movement of people in major entertainment areas of downtown Los Angeles fell during the third, most recent state of emergency which ended Sept. 30.
Atsushi Nishia, director of the Research Center for Social Science & Medicine Sciences, Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Medical Science, stated that “I believe the decreased number of people visiting entertainment areas, along with the vaccination progress has contributed to the decline in infections.”
He said that people returned to the entertainment areas as soon as the emergency was over, which could “affect the situation with the infection in the coming weeks.”