Japan has contained Covid-19 far better than most other large countries. But it now faces the challenge of holding the Olympics this summer — and welcoming athletes from around the world — without causing new outbreaks.
The status of the Games has become a political issue in Japan, with polls showing most residents favoring either postponement or cancellation. Many people are frustrated with how Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, in his first year in office, is handling the situation.
Yet for all of the criticism, it seems possible that Japan will hold a successful Olympics while keeping the virus under control. This morning, I want to walk you through the issue, with help from a couple of charts and from my colleague Motoko Rich, The Times’s Tokyo bureau chief.
An amazing statistic
Japan’s Covid response has been so successful that it achieved a remarkable feat: Overall deaths declined in 2020, even as they were surging in the U.S. and much of the rest of the world. Japan kept its Covid toll low, and its pandemic measures caused a decline in some other fatalities, like those from the flu and vehicle accidents.
This article by Motoko, from almost a year ago, compares mask habits in Japan and the U.S.) The government also virtually closed its borders. And it was quick to focus on the settings where the coronavirus was most likely to spread, warning people to avoid the “three C’s” — closed spaces, crowded places and close contact.
only 2 percent of residents having received a shot. There is less urgency to do so in a country where fewer than 11,000 people have died of Covid.
Japanese regulators have so far approved only Pfizer’s vaccine and are still evaluating Moderna’s and AstraZeneca’s, despite their obvious success elsewhere. Even if those vaccines are approved soon, the government’s contracts with the vaccine makers do not require the delivery of many doses until late this year, Motoko notes. The country appears to be months away from reaching the vaccination levels of the U.S., Britain, Israel and other world leaders.