Tokyo: Almost overnight, Japan has become a stunning, and somewhat mysterious, coronavirus success story. Daily new Covid cases have plummeted from a mid-August peak of nearly 6,000 in Tokyo, with caseloads in the densely populated capital now routinely below 100, an 11-month low. The bars are packed, the trains are crowded, and the mood is celebratory, despite a general bafflement over what, exactly, is behind the sharp drop. Japan, unlike other places in Europe and Asia, has never had anything close to a lockdown, just a series of relatively toothless states of emergency.
Some possible factors in Japan's success include a belated but remarkably rapid vacination campaign, an emptying out of many nightlife areas as fears spread during the recent surge in cases, a widespread practice, well before the pandemic, of wearing masks and bad weather in late August that kept people home.
Many credit the vaccination campaign, especially among younger people, for bringing infections down. Nearly 70 percent of the population is fully vaccinated.
“Rapid and intensive vaccinations in Japan among those younger than 64 might have created a temporary condition similar to herd-immunity,” said Dr. Kazuhiro Tateda, a Toho University professor of virology. Tateda noted that vaccination rates surged in July to September, just as the more infectious delta variant was spreading fast.
Japan's vaccinations started in mid-February, with health workers and the elderly first in line. Shortages of imported vaccines kept progress slow until late May, when the supply stabilised and daily inoculation targets were raised to above 1 million doses to maximise protection before the July 23-August 8 Olympics.
The number of daily shots rose to about 1.5 million in July, pushing vaccination rates from 15 per cent in early July to 65 per cent by early October, exceeding the 57 per cent of the United States. Daily new cases surged just weeks ahead of the Olympics, forcing Japan to hold the Games with daily caseloads of more than 5,000 in Tokyo and around 20,000 nationwide in early August.