It is now eight months since the first cases of coronavirus in Japan. But unlike most of the world, in the Asian country no mandatory lockdowns, fines or quarantines have been imposed and besides, they are returning to normality.
According to its authorities, and how the BBC, is the result of a “unique approach” to the pandemic that has managed to keep the virus at bay and minimize the economic impact.
So far, in Japan there have been 1,500 deaths and 82,000 cases, with a mortality rate of 1% (per 100,000 inhabitants), when in the US it is 52%.
Japan’s success has been based on a mixture of scientific approach, flexibility, and common sense. Hitoshi Oshitani, professor of virology at the Tohoku University School of Medicine, explains that “in most of the world, the strategy has been to try to contain the coronavirus. From the beginning, we did not have that goal. We opted for something different: we decided to learn to live with this virus. “
“We tried to decrease transmission as much as possible, while maintaining social and economic activities. We accept that this virus is something that cannot be removed. In fact, the vast majority of infectious diseases cannot be eliminated, so we understood that the best way to combat it was to coexist with it, “explains Oshitani.
“As we are relatively close to Wuhan, which was where the pandemic originated, we prepared very quickly because we knew that we could have many cases “, said the expert, one of the advisers to the Japanese government.
“We knew from what happened in Wuhan that the virus is possible to contain, but that it is extremely difficult to do so. In Japan, however, we had no legal way to implement a quarantine or to force people to stay at home. It was clear that we needed a different approach “, dice Oshitani.
In addition to the usual demands (masks, physical distance, washing hands, not shouting or talking loudly, not kissing or shaking hands), in Japan decisions were based “on the knowledge we had of the virus and what we were discovering about him “.
Japan was the first country that gave importance to the role of asymptomatic patients: “We knew that there are many asymptomatic cases or with very mild symptoms. This makes it very difficult to locate all the positive cases. And therefore, our purpose It wasn’t contain it from the start instead we tried to suppress the broadcasts as much as we could, “Oshitani said.
“We knew that most of those infected with the virus, almost 80%, does not transmit it to anyone. Instead, a small proportion infects many others, “he adds.
This effect, called ‘supercontagion events’, gave the Oshitani team to understand that “the transmission of this virus cannot be contained if the clusters of infections are not controlled”, that is, groups of similar health events that have occurred in the same area at the same time. “Control of these clusters it has also been the basis of our strategy to live with the virus, “said Oshitani.
“The evidence very soon made us understand that the coronavirus is not only transmitted through the coughing, sneezing, and touchingbut also in microparticles that float and circulate in the air, “said Oshitani.
Thus, the strategy to be developed was: avoid places with poor ventilation, avoid places with crowds and avoid closed places where people speak out loud.
Therefore, Japan allows sporting events, but you can’t scream. In bars and restaurants, customers are asked to speak quietly or listen to music.
To all this must be added cultural aspects, such as the tendency of the Japanese to maintain physical distance, as well as social pressure: “Nobody in Japan likes to be singled out as responsible for transmitting the virus, “says Oshitani.
Instead, there are some negatives. According to some opinion polls, the population she is dissatisfied with the government for his slow and confusing response.