Friday, May 29, 2020

Japan contains coronavirus without lockdown

Japan May Have Beaten Coronavirus Without Lockdowns or Mass Testing. But How? | TIME - Lisa Du & Grace Huang:

May 22, 2020 - "Japan’s state of emergency is set to end with new cases of the coronavirus dwindling to mere dozens. It got there despite largely ignoring the default playbook. No restrictions were placed on residents’ movements, and businesses from restaurants to hairdressers stayed open. No high-tech apps that tracked people’s movements were deployed. The country doesn’t have a center for disease control. And even as nations were exhorted to 'test, test, test,' Japan has tested just 0.2% of its population — one of the lowest rates among developed countries.

"Yet the curve has been flattened, with deaths well below 1,000, by far the fewest among the Group of Seven developed nations. In Tokyo, its dense center, cases have dropped to single digits on most days. While the possibility of a more severe second wave of infection is ever-present, Japan has entered and is set to leave its emergency in just weeks, with the status lifted already for most of the country and Tokyo and the remaining four other regions set to exit Monday.

"Analyzing just how Japan defied the odds and contained the virus while disregarding the playbook used by other successful countries has become a national conversation. Only one thing is agreed upon: that there was no silver bullet, no one factor that made the difference.... Experts consulted by Bloomberg News also suggested a myriad of factors that contributed to the outcome, and none could point to a singular policy package that could be replicated in other countries. Nonetheless, these measures still offer long-term lessons for countries in the middle of pandemic that may yet last for years.

"An early grassroots response to rising infections was crucial.... [E]xperts praise the role of Japan’s contact tracers, which swung into action after the first infections were found in January. The fast response was enabled by one of Japan’s inbuilt advantages — its public health centers, which in 2018 employed more than half of 50,000 public health nurses who are experienced in infection tracing. In normal times, these nurses would be tracking down more common infections such as influenza and tuberculosis. 'It’s very analog — it’s not an app-based system like Singapore,' said Kazuto Suzuki, a professor of public policy at Hokkaido University who has written about Japan’s response. 'But nevertheless, it has been very useful.'

"While countries such as the U.S. and the U.K. are just beginning to hire and train contact tracers as they attempt to reopen their economies, Japan has been tracking the movement of the disease since the first handful of cases were found. These local experts focused on tackling so-called clusters, or groups of infections from a single location such as clubs or hospitals, to contain cases before they got out of control....

"The early response was also boosted by an unlikely happening. Japan’s battle with the virus first came to mainstream international attention with its much-criticized response to the Diamond Princess cruise ship in February that led to hundreds of infections.... Still, the experience of the ship is credited with providing Japanese experts with invaluable data early in the crisis on how the virus spread, as well as catapulting it into the public consciousness....

"Experts are also credited with creating an easy-to-understand message of avoiding what are called the 'Three C’s' — closed spaces, crowded spaces and close-contact settings — rather than keeping away from others entirely.... “Social distancing may work, but it doesn’t really help to continue normal social life,' said Hokkaido University’s Suzuki. 'The "Three C’s" are a much more pragmatic approach and very effective, while having a similar effect'....

"Even with the the state of emergency about to end, authorities are warning that life will not return to normal.... If a deadlier second wave does follow, the risk factor in Japan, which has the world’s oldest population, remains high. The country has speedily approved Gilead Sciences Inc.’s remdesivir and is now scrambling to allow the use of still unproven Fujifilm Holdings Corp.’s antiviral Avigan.... Officials have begun to speak of a phase in which people 'live with the virus,' with a recognition that Japan’s approach has no possibility of wiping out the pathogen."

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