Japan’s COVID-19 Response –– Part 4

Focus on Vaccination

Recently, there has been more government and media attention to coronavirus vaccines as a way to suppress the further spread of the virus.

Japan is set to begin its vaccination process later than some other countries because Japan’s drug approvals require clinical trials involving Japanese people.  However, an emergency authorization based on data from other countries is allowed. Vaccines for the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic were given emergency approval after a three month review.

The government has a contract for 120 million doses of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine, enough for 60 million of the country’s 126 million people, by the end of June. Pfizer is the only company so far to have applied for emergency approval for its vaccine.  Japan also has contracts with Moderna, AstraZeneca and Novavax.

The Japanese government is hoping Pfizer’s vaccine will be approved by mid-February under the accelerated process and is preparing to start an inoculation program in late February.

The vaccines will be provided free of charge andand medical personnel will get top priority followed by older people.

That said, some concern remains among the public regarding vaccines.

Japan has one of the lowest rates of vaccine confidence in the world reflecting  the caution and suspicion of the Japanese people about vaccines and potential side effects due to past vaccine-linked events.

The unease has its roots in health and related legal issues associated with a controversial inoculation program that caused the government to revise a vaccination law scrapping mandatory vaccinations.

Finally, the government will have to carefully manage how the public perceives a speedy approval process. The perception that political and economic considerations and the forthcoming Tokyo Olympics prompted a faster approval, could arouse suspicion over whether the vaccines have been thoroughly vetted.  An already-skeptical public could undermine the scale and impact of the vaccination program.

Japan’s COVID-19 Response –– Part 3

A Troubling Third Wave and Low Public Confidence

While the first infection wave died down at the end of April, the number of infections began rising again in late June, marking the beginning of the second wave, which peaked in early August.

Reflecting the success of a national state of emergency declaration, the situation abated.  Unfortunately the number of infections started to increase again in late October as the government sought to stimulate economic activity including a program designed to promote travel and tourism within Japan.

Japan is now in the throes of a third wave, with the daily number of new coronavirus cases hitting a record 7,883 on this month.  Infections with new coronavirus variants that appears to be highly transmissible have also been confirmed.

The government has declared another state of emergency for Tokyo and other major population centers and is considering a proposal to expand national and local governmental authority to strengthen enforcement of policies to prevent spread of the virus.

However, according to the most recent public opinion polls, the approval rate for the government of new Prime Minister Suga continues dropping significantly since September, with disapproval of Suga’s “lack of leadership” over the pandemic cited by respondents.

One survey found 68.3 percent were dissatisfied with the coronavirus measures implemented by the government while the recently announced monthlong state of emergency declared was viewed as “too late” by 79.2 percent.  Nearly 78 percent said it needed to be expanded to other areas.

Regarding the government’s plan to seek authority to punish businesses that refuse to comply with its requests, 48.7 percent of survey respondents opposed such punishment, while 42.7 percent were supportive.

A New Day for America

I expect my family and friends in the United States are sleeping better with Trump spending his last night in the White House and Biden’s inauguration. For myself, with time/date differences I will get little sleep as I spend hours with CNN watching the events in Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C. is still my favorite city in the world. I lived and worked there for over 25 years. I cried as I watched the January 6th attack on the Capitol, a sacred place where I once spent a part of every working day.

Seeing the dramatic views of the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials, the Washington Monument and the Capitol have been inspirational. Among many vivid memories are those of attending past inaugurals.

With little else to do, I’ve a bottle of single-malt scotch set aside as my political genes take control and I become my personal analyst/commentator and celebrate a New Day for America.

My last tour of Washington, D.C. –– the Marine Corps Marathon, 10/30/2011 was an emotional experience that sparked many vivid memories of my 25 years in the nation’s Capitol. And, I finished the race!@

Japan’s COVID-19 Response –– Part 2

Politics, the Economy, Public Health and the Olympics

There were several factors that led to the government’s delay in taking more decisive steps to adopt stronger measures to contain the spread of the virus.

First, government officials and business interests feared that if Japan showed a large number of infected cases, it could lead to the postponement or cancellation of the 2020 Summer Olympics. They believed the Olympics were critical both to boost Japan’s prestige and as a catalyst needed to stimulate demand, investment, tourism and innovation in a sluggish economy.

Second, public health authorities feared a “collapse” of a medical system unable to cope with a large infected patient population.**

These two factors led to the adoption of a conscious and explicit policy to limit the number of tests conducted for the coronavirus.

Third, there are tense relations between central and Prefecture government officials that appears to hinder sound policy development and coordination.  With no real power to enforce business closures or other policies and a requirement to consult with a hesitant central government, local officials and health professionals struggled to minimize the impact of the virus.

Finally, government officials, lacking authority to adopt or enforce compliance policies, were concerned about public support of emergency measures even though the Japanese people generally have a high level of compliance with government requests and recommendations.

[**FYI — The headline in my daily Tokyo newspaper today reads: “Virus patients dying, unable to access care.”]

The Coronavirus Epidemic in Japan

I often get asked questions about the coronavirus epidemic in Japan.  The following is Part One of a four-part post with my take on Japan’s experience to date.  It is based on information from government, medical and media sources.

Japan’s COVID-19 Response –– Part 1

A year after the first confirmed domestic case of COVID-19, Japan now finds itself in the middle of a troubling third wave of infections. The cumulative number of cases in the country recently exceeded 310,000.  Tokyo, a metropolitan center of 13.5 million, is the worst affected part of Japan.

The Japanese government’s initial response to the coronavirus pandemic was largely reactive.  Japan did not impose a compulsory lockdown because the government does not have that authority.  And, it carried out little virus testing.

The government instead advocated a “3 C’s” concept.  Built on traditional Japanese behavior patterns and etiquette, such as wearing face masks and little communal physical contact such as shaking hands, it asked the population to avoid closed spaces with poor ventilation; crowded places; and close-contact settings.  Indeed the strategy helped Japan to hold down its case count and maintain a degree of normal business and economic activity.

However, some critics have said that Japan’s initial relative success was not due to prudent measures, but rather pure luck, noting that while the approach may have slowed the spread of the virus it may have also led to a false sense of reassurance.