Japan’s virus strategy relied on people voluntarily complying with social distancing guidelines, especially when cases spiked. This proved more effective than top-down measures in other places, which in some cases made people resistant and defiant.
“People use their own judgment to avoid risk and change their behavior and that plays a hugely important role,” Ohmagari said.
This includes wearing masks. They were adopted at the start of the pandemic and the practice remains almost universal even though the government has relaxed its recommendation to wear one outside. Mask use in Japan is generally above 90%, a threshold that other G7 countries have only occasionally approached, according to data from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
The government’s “Three Cs” slogan – which touts avoiding enclosed spaces, crowded places and close contact situations – has also reinforced how it wants people to act.
Additionally, taxi buildings have undertaken efforts to improve ventilation, including the use of carbon dioxide monitors to show indoor air is being exchanged.
The relatively light nature of the restrictions also meant that Japan did not face the significant disruption to daily life from a severe lockdown, rolled out in countries from Italy to China and Australia at various times. . This may have helped people comply with restrictions longer and allowed the nation to avoid the kind of social unrest seen abroad.
And even though other populations have returned to normal life, the Japanese seem to remain cautious: Activities in Tokyo’s nightlife district are still down nearly 40% from 2019, according to one estimate.
Before the pandemic, the Japanese had one of the lowest levels of vaccine confidence in the world. But they are now among the best-protected populations in the G7, quickly catching up with countries like the United States that had launched their vaccination programs months earlier and were doing so without a mandate.
Experts pointed out that the initial slow rollout of vaccinations and an early shortage created a sense of urgency, especially among the elderly, while the act of inoculation was not politicized as it was in the States. -United.
About 93% of Japanese people aged 65 and over have had two injections and 90% have had a booster, according to data from the Prime Minister’s Office. This compares to 81% of the total population having received two doses and 61% receiving a third.
“Thanks to the protection the Japanese have gained through vaccination and natural infection, I don’t expect hospitalizations or deaths in Japan to increase dramatically anytime soon,” said Kenji Shibuya, epidemiologist at the Tokyo Foundation for Policy Research.
One of the main pillars of the low death rate was the underlying good health of the Japanese population. The country has the longest life expectancy in the world and was one of only six OECD members to see no reduction in 2020. Only 5% of Japanese are obese, one of the conditions that is increasing the risk of serious illness from Covid, compared to 36% of the population in the US and 28% in the UK, according to the World Obesity Federation.
Widely adopted actions like mask-wearing and hand-washing have also wiped out other illnesses like the flu, which typically kills more than 10,000 Japanese a year.
Deaths in the country were almost entirely in the over-60s, indicating a strong health base for the middle-aged and younger cohorts. This contrasts with a wider distribution of deaths in the United States, where around a quarter of deaths were among people under the age of 65, according to government figures.
Like most countries around the world, Japan’s healthcare system has been strained during outbreaks of infections. But it has managed to maintain a high level of contact tracing during the pandemic, which means resources can be sent to where they are needed, free of charge.
A network of local public health centers trace cases and find positive patients in a free hospital or hotel room. Those self-isolating at home are constantly contacted by health center staff, who send nurses and doctors as needed.
“We know that early intervention saves more lives,” Ohmagari said. “Although I think we can do more, the Japanese system tries to leave no one behind, monitors patients carefully and intervenes early.”