Japan and COVID-19: Where’s the exponential outbreak?

By Global Politics Blog Reporter

20 March 2020

Japan was among the original countries outside of China itself to be hit by the coronavirus, but has emerged as one of the lowest affected.

The country has imposed no lockdowns, despite some disruptions caused by school closures. A Japan Times report notes that “life continues as normal for much of the population. Tokyo rush-hour trains are still packed and restaurants remain open.”

By Friday March 20th, Japan has only had a little more than 900 proven cases, minus the Princess Diamond cruise ship. By comparison, the U.S., France and Germany were all above 7,000 cases and Italy was nearing 36,000, with over 4000 deaths at the time of writing.

A WHO expert predicts two scenarios: Japan has containing the spread by focusing on outbreak clusters, or that there are outbreaks yet to be found.

Japan may have some built-in advantages, such as a culture where handshakes and hugs are less common than in other Group of Seven countries. It also has rates of hand-washing above those in Europe.

Should Japan see a jump, it may be better suited than many peers to handle the surge. It has about 13 hospital beds per 1,000 people, the highest among G7 nations and more than triple the rate for Italy, the U.S., U.K. and Canada, according to World Bank data.

“Even if Japan may not be counting all those infected, hospitals aren’t being stretched thin and there has been no spike in pneumonia cases, health officials said. While the prime minister has stepped up border controls, a government expert panel said Thursday it may be possible to reopen schools in areas without new confirmed cases when the academic year begins in April” reported the Japan Times.