Covid Second Wave Japan

Covid-19 Second Wave: A More Efficient Japanese Model

⏱ 8 minutes

While North America and Western Europe face a tremendous surge in Covid-19 affected patients’ number, the situation in Japan offers another aspect. Since late August, the second wave of Coronavirus infections in Japan seems indeed to slow down, coming back to a contained situation. The gap is wide between affected patients’ figures depending the side of the globe considered.

We tried to analyze the differences in this crisis management between Japan and Western countries and the consequences of this second wave of Coronavirus.

France / Japan: A Comparable Evolution of Contaminations

The handling of the outbreak was quite different even among western countries, varying from no to total lockdowns, in testing scale, etc. We choose to compare Japan with the country we know best, and that has among the highest figures of contamination: France.

Statistics that are surprisingly parallel

For the two countries, the contexts of second wave are quite similar, with a couple of weeks interval:

  • A growing number of tests performed (up to 170,000 per day in France / 30,000 in Japan, about five times the overall number of tests performed in spring);
  • The same 4 to 5% uptick in positive tests rate;
  • A record number of cases (about 10,000 daily in France / up to 1,600 in Japan);
  • But a lower hospital admission rate, and therefore lower case fatality rate than during the first wave (although it needs to be monitored in Europe for the next weeks).

Even if its population is twice as less than Japan’s, positive cases number in France rises proportionally to the number of tests performed, in surprisingly the same way as it happened in Japan this summer.

The fact remains that Japanese people are less affected, probably thanks to their natural hygiene etiquette, their civic-minded attitude and maybe their natural immunity, that we discussed about in a previous article:

More fear than harm?

A surge of cases was feared especially during 2 occasions this summer:

  • The "Go To Travel" campaign (a ¥1.35 trillion / ~$13 billion subsidy to help domestic tourism) ongoing from July 22, with the exclusion of Tokyo until September 30.
  • Obon, the celebration of the deceased, when many Japanese people traditionally come back in their families for a couple of days at mid-August.

The second wave in Japan started at the end of June and peaked between the end of July and early August. These two events do not seem to have impacted the spread of the coronavirus, that has been constantly slowing down for several weeks.

France was worried about people mingling during summer holidays, and as a matter of fact, the second wave began at the end of July. Early September would hopefully be the peak of the outbreak before a long-awaited recess. However, the lull is yet to be confirmed in the next weeks.

In the two countries, the situation is quite similar: the admission rate in hospitals is still under control in most of the areas, far from the spring 🌸 overloads.

The rate of severe cases was a lot lower during the second waves encountered by France and Japan, with similar explanations:

  • The actual number of cases in July-August-September is probably lower than in March-April, when PCR tests were restricted to severe cases, whereas today anybody can get a test (for free in France);
  • Young people are the most affected, but they are less likely to develop a severe form of coronavirus. In the meantime, fragile and elderly people are now more knowledgeable about the virus and protect themselves better;
  • The patients’ care is more efficient as medicine has a better understanding of the virus;
  • Lastly, the Coronavirus strain may have mutated and may be less virulent, but it is yet to be proven scientifically.

Some residents in Japan (especially expatriates) complained in mid-summer that the government was not reactive enough to face the second wave, arguing that economy was prioritized against health. However, in hindsight, it seems the government was right not to worry to much. Moreover, PM Abe’s team lack of communication was linked to Abe’s worsening health condition, announced along with his resignation at the end of August.

Scaremongering medias

In France as well as in Japan, Covid-19 is in the top news every day.

In Japan, new contaminations figures are spelled daily, and clusters are highlighted:

  • In July, the attention was oriented toward nightlife districts (Shinjuku and especially Kabukicho in Tokyo, Namba / Osaka-Minami…)
  • The ever since typical Japanese name and shame was practiced for any cluster in the territory, for instance, the 91 confirmed cases in a Shimane high-school in mid-August.

Global and western countries’ figures are almost never discussed in Japan.

The only news that made it to the top aside coronavirus in Japan 🦠 were Shinzo Abe’s resignation of at the end of August and the typhoon 🌀 that hit Kyushu in early September.

In Western countries, Corona still occupies the news background, but it was temporarily swept aside by events such as:

  • The "Black Lives Matter" movement;
  • The Beirut port explosion in Lebanon;
  • The next presidential elections in the United States.

What is different with Covid-19’s Japanese management

Civic-minded Japan and Western skepticism

Regarding Japan, some prefer to talk about "herd mentality" (not immunity here 😉 ), rather that "civic mentality", but the result is the same: in the archipelago, everybody cover their face almost all the time and comply with sanitary measures without complaining.

Anti-face masks 😷 rallies are only epiphenomenon, such as the puny one that occurred on August 9 in Shibuya, or when a reluctant passenger was disembarked from a Peach Airlines plane ✈️.

In Western countries, the situation is different: people criticize governments when masks are unavailable but are unwilling to wear them when they can. Putting aside social networks where anything is possible, "anti-maskers" were far less aggressive in France than in Germany or in the United States.

Regarding vaccination, a strong mistrust has developed over time in France (long before the Covid-19 outbreak), but there is no hesitation on Japan’s side. The Japanese Government has already ordered 120 million doses to British pharmaceutical group AstraZeneca to vaccine its population by the end of 2021’ first half, probably in prevision to Tokyo 2021 Olympic Games 🏅. When the government or their boss will order it, people in Japan will get vaccinated, without question.

Disparate crisis relief systems

In France, the country of redistribution, financial help was abundant and quickly distributed, and several recovery plans are under way.

As for Japan, the government surprisingly reacted on the social aspect of the crisis, by providing unexpected financial assistance:

  • ¥100,000 (~US$678) for any resident in Japan;
  • Up to ¥2 million (~US$13,554) for companies and covering up for partial unemployment;
  • Up to ¥1 million (~US$6,777) for freelance workers who could prove a loss of revenue.

Only the last one, surprisingly easy to receive (even with dubious figures), was payed quickly.

As for the ¥100,000 it took about four months before the grantees got payed. On the other hand, many companies are yet to receive the promised help.

On the local level, many prefectures also tried to grant additional financial assistance.

Japanese workers quickly got over telework. Once the state of emergency was lifted in late May, everybody came back to work as usual, even though it was still recommended to avoid cramped spaces such as… crowded public transportation!

Symptoms and access to Coronavirus testing

Contrary to France where chains of transmission are actively tracked, in Japan, affected patients tend to be the "protruding nails that will be hammered down."

Even with a doctor’s prescription, access to a Covid test is still difficult and expensive. It is quite common to have to pay about ¥40,000 (~US$271.10) when trying to get tested without using the procedures of one’s health insurance!

It gets even more complicated as, to avoid embarrassment or disturbance:

  • Japanese people may hide their symptoms;
  • Some companies might "keep secret" the fact that some of their employees were affected.

To overcome these difficulties, some companies have decided to offer PCR tests for all their employees to facilitate detection and isolation of positive cases (from what we know, it includes Rakuten).

What to expect next in the Coronavirus pandemic?

The question that raises debates since March is the reopening of Japanese borders.

Until now, Japan decided that the best protection was to keep its borders closed. However, this attitude is nurturing fear and xenophobic tendencies, generating many dramatic situations and consequently possibly many deaths.

Among the Japanese people who express themselves, for example on social networks like Twitter, many of them express openly xenophobic views and find natural to keep their borders closed. It is somehow in the continuity of the country’s history, but it is difficult to know the real opinion of the population (the silent majority). However, it is an economical nonsense, starting from the relationship with neighboring Asian countries where this crisis was controlled.

Tourism industry, that amounts to 7 to 10% of the GNP and was included in all major economic recovery plans since the 2000s and for the next 20 years, is naturally terribly impacted by this situation.

Even on the domestic level, difficulties are already arising:

  • In the transportation industry:
    • For the first time in its history, Osaka metro ran into a deficit in 2020 (100 million passengers less between April and June and a loss of ¥6,2 billion / ~$60 million);
    • JR East announced the cutting off some night trains due to the reduction of passengers’ attendance as the number of nomikai (drinking after-works with colleagues) has significantly decreased;
  • The impact on the job market and the dismissals’ effects are already visible: supermarkets get more crowded on weekdays afternoons;
  • There is a slight surge of racism toward expatriates, with more suspicion and staring, and a more frequent control of Zairyu (residence) cards: many Japanese still think that the virus is spread by foreigners.

Today’s Coronavirus could be compared to the Hong-Kong flu that spread in the world from summer 1968, killing about 1 million (and 34 to 100,000 in the United States). At the time, migratory flows were way lower, and prophylactic habits fewer. The outbreak stopped naturally after one year and a half. Will Covid-19 simply disappear too?

Updated on February 10, 2021 - Seconde vague de Covid : la supériorité du modèle japonais