Japan’s fight has just begun
The author is a Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
On Sunday, April 5, Ginza, where JoongAng Ilbo’s Tokyo branch is located, seemed like a ghost city. Large department stores like Mitsukoshi and Ginza Six closed, as well as small shops in the allies. The main street in Ginza was empty with no cars and pedestrians. As 261 tested positive with Covid-19 in Tokyo over the weekend, the mega city of 13.5 million people shrunk rapidly. People stayed home.
While it seems like the number of cases suddenly surged in Tokyo, it is in fact normal in other countries. Countries with Covid-19 outbreaks such as China, Korea, Italy and the United States had a rapid rise of positive cases in the early stage. After extensive testing and stay-at-home orders, the curve flattens, as in the case of Korea. However, Japan has shown a different, more gradual curve. It is evidence that Japan is testing selectively.
From the beginning, Japan focused on preventing critical cases. As 80 percent of patients end up with no or light symptoms, Japan thought it could select and only treat serious cases in order to limit the number of positive cases. Wuhan, China, implemented a strict lockdown when nine deaths were confirmed, but Tokyo is preparing for an emergency now that it has more than 30 deaths. The authorities are adjusting the timing to announce economic measures.
If Korea has fought the epidemic with extensive testing, Japan claims that it is counting on vaccine development. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe showed confidence that Japan would develop a vaccine. But it is likely to be available next year at the earliest.
Japan has also neglected another factor — infections within hospitals. Patients with light symptoms don’t know they are infected and visited hospitals. Testing was limited out of concern for medical system collapse, but it is likely to make hospitals cradles for “explosive spread.” As of April 5, a total of 153 medical professionals including doctors and nurses have been infected. Fortunately, people are highly cooperative. Tokyo has become a ghost town even without a non-forcible order.
In a Health Ministry survey, 89 percent of the people responded they are thorough with sanitizing their hands. That’s why Japan claims that the Japanese style disease control is only possible in Japan.
I am not sure how the situation in Japan will develop. The fight against Covid-19 has only begun in Japan. The final result will need to be seen after Covid-19 ends.