Coronavirus: Why Japan has seen relatively few deaths from Covid-19, despite no lockdown

30-Mar-2020 Intellasia | iNews | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Parts of Japan will experience their first weekend of lockdown as the country’s lucky spell avoiding the coronavirus appears to be coming to an end.

Prime minister Shinzo Abe has warned citizens to avoid non-essential outings until 12 April, while Tokyo’s Governor Yuriko Koike warned residents on Wednesday that a weekend lockdown will take place, citing an “explosive rise” in infections over the last 48 hours.

The move has alarmed the Japanese residents, who had been living a near-normal life in the capital city. But on Friday, supermarkets were emptied by people trying to find last-minute supplies to weather the storm.

So how has Japan avoided a significant outbreak so far, and has its method helped or hindered the speed of the outbreak?

A slow increase despite testing

On board the Princess Diamond cruise ship, passengers contracted the illness in droves, but on land, Japan has seen relatively few deaths since its first coronavirus case was declared in mid-January.

While lockdowns have become the norm across Europe, Japan opted for a different approach. Schools have now been shut for a month, and large gatherings, including sporting events like the Tokyo Olympics, have been rescheduled.

The financial blow of losing the global sporting event, however, seemed a small price to pay in the outbreak. Out of 127 million people, the country reported only 1,300 cases and 45 recorded deaths, while managing to avoid a large influx of cases with scant provisions in place.

While some academics said Japan’s low number of cases was due to its lack of testing for the virus it has tested 117.8 people per capita, in comparison to South Korea’s 6,148 Jonathan Newton, Associate Professor of Economics at Kyoto University believes the country has actually experienced a slow growth in the disease relative to other countries. He wrote in The Conversation that testing might capture the relative growth of the disease but not the rate of which it is spreading.

“Such an occurrence is unlikely to have passed unnoticed in Japan, which like Italy has a large elderly population. Consequently, there must be something wrong with the assumptions on which we base our calculation.

“According to the WHO, there were 132 confirmed cases in Japan by 22 February,” he wrote. “This was more cases than had by then been confirmed in Italy.”

“Now assume that, since 22 February, the rate of growth of cases in Japan has been slightly slower than in the European countries mentioned above. Specifically, let’s assume a four day doubling time. In the 32 days from 22 February to 25 March, cases would have doubled 32/4 = eight times.

“Starting with 132 and doubling it eight times (132, 264, 528 …) we get to 33,792. That is a lot of cases. Italy went into lockdown before it reached 10,000 cases. By 30,000 confirmed cases, Italy had more than 12,000 patients in hospital and more than 2,000 deaths,” he wrote.

Cultural impact

The country has not been as strict on social distancing, with life carrying on much as it had before, save for some extra hygienic precautions, according to English-Japanese publication Kyodo News. Residents have been told to wash their hands, wear masks on public transportation, to be considerate of others, and to avoid contact with the elderly and others vulnerable to the pneumonia-causing illness. But Japanese residents have still been attending gigs, using public transport, and eating in restaurants.

But despite this, experts believe Japan’s cultural practices could have played a part in the virus spreading more slowly than elsewhere. Dr Tomoya Saito, director of the department of health crisis management at Japan’s National Institute of Public Health, told New York Times cultural differences may have prevented the spread, such as an efficient washing of hands and bowing, rather than shaking hands as a greeting. Wearing masks is commonplace. “It’s a kind of social distancing,” he said.

Knuckling down

But on 10 March, the picture in Japan changed. It had 59 new cases of coronavirus infection, the biggest rise in a signle day since the start of the outbreak, public broadcaster NHK said.

Two weeks later, the spike has become near-daily, with 45 new diagnoses confirmed on Thursday, making it the second straight day with 40 or more new confirmed cases.

While testing seemed unimportant when the outbreak was low, now authorities have not been able to track all the contacts of more than half the newest cases, leading to more severe restrictions.

Prime minister Shinzo Abe declared that from midnight on Thursday, those who have been to any of 21 designated countries, including Italy and Germany, within 14 days of arriving in Japan will be turned away, while visitors from Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Africa will be ordered to self-quarantine for 14 days.

Across Japan, not just Tokyo, the restrictions will try and curb the outbreak. The governor of Japan’s Osaka prefecture, Hirofumi Yoshimura, asked residents on Friday to refrain from making non-essential outings this weekend, reported Reuters.

Now, the lockdown the country hoped to avoid is advised as essential, with experts insisting it happens before its scant number of beds for infectious diseases runs out before the outbreak has hit its peak. Unfortunately, Japan has become the latest nation to join the battle to keep its health service afloat while the virus hits.

“It’s better that prime minister Abe decisively declare a lockdown in Tokyo,” director of the department of health crisis management at Japan’s National Institute of Public Health Dr Yamato said. “The economic impact should not be a top priority. Tokyo should lock down for two to three weeks. Otherwise, Tokyo’s medical system could collapse.”

https://inews.co.uk/news/coronavirus-japan-deaths-cases-covid-19-lockdown-measures-why-measures-2521139

 


Category: Japan

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