The consensus of opinion from health experts, media commentators and international agencies is that Japan has fared comparatively well through the COVID 19 pandemic. The key metrics; total confirmed cases, active daily cases, daily deaths, confirmed cases per thousand of population, hospital occupancy and death rate as a percentage of confirmed cases; have all been low when compared against countries in Europe and North America.
Japan has taken a different approach to many countries and there were no country-wide, or even city-wide, lockdowns enforced. Instead the government declared a ‘state of emergency’ in stages across the country. This encouraged ‘non-essential’ businesses to either temporarily close or promote more working from home. Large sporting and live entertainment events were cancelled. However, bars and restaurants were never obliged to close their doors, though many chose to for short periods or, at the very least, took it upon themselves to introduce social distancing measures.
When looking for the reasons behind Japan’s comparative success many point to this decentralized approach of the government, where decision-making is left up to regional Governors and concentrated testing is focussed on identified clusters. Across the country the access to high-quality universal healthcare has clearly also helped, along with a trusting public who followed clear instructions to avoid closed, crowded spaces and to always wear face masks in public spaces. Fortuitously this was already a cultural norm.
That said, Japan is now attracting negative publicity related to it's relatively slow vaccine roll-out; currently only 1% of the population have been vaccinated as of April 15th. The development of a 4th wave of infections in Osaka and Tokyo is compounding the perception that Japan is now faltering in its recovery. It is worth bearing in mind though that even during "states of emergency" life in Japan has continued without the kind of stringent restrictions seen elsewhere in the world.
See below for the latest on Covid-19 together with information on travelling
to and around Japan.
COVID Infection Rates
It is important to point out that comparisons between countries is extremely difficult to do so accurately, as different countries have different amounts of testing, define COVID19 positive cases and deaths differently and release data at different times.
Japan is currently experiencing what is being referred to as a fourth wave of infections. This spike in infections is mainly concentrated in Tokyo and Osaka - which account for 80% of new cases. Although in comparison to many other countries around the world Japan is faring very well, the slow roll-out of vaccinations is compounding the concern at the latest COVID19 rates within the country.
The numbers as of April 15th:
Total cases: 524,000
Total COVID19 related deaths: 9,552
7 Day Average for new confirmed cases: 4000
Japan's borders are currently closed to all international tourists and business travellers. This is likely to remain in place until September (at the very earliest).
For much of the pandemic period Japan has focussed on domestic travel, and has actively encouraged it with a campaign discounting rates at cooperating hotels and restaurants. The "Go To Travel" campaign has been suspended since the end of 2020 with the aim of resuming in late Spring. Due to the latest spike in infections in major cities it seems unlikely it will resume in the lead up to the summer Olympics.
The Japanese government is progressing with its plans to proceed with the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics this year without international visitors. The policy on domestic spectators is yet to be confirmed.
Travelling around Japan
Travel around Japan was impacted the "state of emergencies" declared in the worst affected prefectures over the late winter and early Spring. As of late March travel restrictions have been lifted and domestic travel has resumed, but has not been actively encouraged. Hanami celebrations were somewhat muted with local government requests to refrain from holding large gatherings/parties.
In general Japanese life continues as "normal". Trains are full, shops and restaurants are open (but closed by 8pm), people are free to meet as the please, sightseeing venues are open and sporting events are taking place with spectators. 4 prefectures including Tokyo and Osaka are enacting more localised restrictions on business activity and may re-introduce the "state of emergency" measures.
Japan launched its coronavirus contact-tracing app in June 2020, and it has been designed to notify people who have come into close contact with individuals infected with the coronavirus. There are a number of measures in place to protect against further spread of coronavirus, including:
Hand sanitiser at almost every building entrance, from supermarkets to offices.
Some larger shops and department stores check the temperature of anyone entering.
Many restaurants, cafes and bars aim to keep customers socially distanced, by spacing out tables and limiting the number of patrons.
The government continues to advise people to follow the usual precautions and the Japanese, as one would expect (and to their collective benefit), have been diligently following the rules; wash your hands regularly, try remain socially distant by staying two-metres apart from other people, always wear facemasks when out in public and avoid the 3 C's of; closed spaces, crowded places, and close-contact settings wherever possible.