Japan yesterday declared at least a temporary victory in its battle with COVID-19, and it triumphed by following its own playbook. It drove down the number of daily new cases to near target levels of 0.5 per 100,000 people with voluntary and not very restrictive social distancing and without large-scale testing. Instead, the country focused on finding clusters of infections and attacking the underlying causes, which often proved to be overcrowded gathering spots such as gyms and nightclubs.
“With this unique Japanese approach, we were able to control this [infection] trend in just 1.5 months; I think this has shown the power of the Japanese model,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared at a press conference yesterday evening announcing the lifting of the state of emergency.
The number of daily new cases peaked at 743 on 12 April but has varied between 90 and 14 for the past week, according to the World Health Organization. At yesterday’s press conference, Abe noted the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients has dropped from 10,000 about 1 month ago to 2000.
The positive outcome has even convinced some skeptics of the nation’s cluster strategy. Japan has prevented an outbreak “on the scale seen in many Western countries,” says Kenji Shibuya, a global health specialist at King’s College London who previously warned of undetected community spread. He credits the public’s cooperation with stay-at-home directives and the fortuitous timing of the emergency. He notes that Japan had hundreds of new cases per day when the emergency was declared, whereas the United Kingdom had 400,000 new daily cases at the time of its lockdown.
Despite the lifting of the emergency, the outbreak “is not over,” says Hitoshi Oshitani, a virologist and public health expert at Tohoku University. “I’m expecting small outbreaks from time to time,” he says. Although the government may consider reimposing restrictions, he believes “we can manage these smaller outbreaks.” [Continue reading…]