Japan’s virus countermeasures spanning January to July — during which time the country saw its first major wave of COVID-19 — were “belated but produced good results,” according to a report published Wednesday by the Asia Pacific Initiative, a Tokyo-based global think tank founded in the wake of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.
Insufficient disaster preparedness, disjointed messaging from public officials, a stubborn resistance to raising testing capacity as well as political friction between national and municipal leaders seemed to expose the shortcomings of the “Japan Model.”
And yet, using only voluntary countermeasures and “soft lockdowns” that bore no punitive measures, the country did “the best it could with what it had,” the report said.
It remains unclear why the country has so far avoided a devastating outbreak, the likes of which are being seen now in many Western countries. Research into the subject is crucial but this report instead focused strictly on the public sector’s response, said API Chairman Yoichi Funabashi.
Japan has recorded more than 86,000 infections and just over 1,600 deaths since it reported its first case of the virus in mid-January.
“While other countries were imposing strict lockdowns, Japan was able to keep the virus at bay using voluntary, nonpunitive measures,” said Yoshimitsu Kobayashi, chairman of the board of directors of Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings and chair of the API report committee. “We sought to investigate whether that was a fortuitous outcome, or the result of good policy.”
The 470-page report examined government countermeasures to the pandemic between January and July, during which time the country was met with no shortage of trials and tribulations, from the evacuation of Japanese nationals from Wuhan, China, and the disembarkation of a quarantined cruise ship, to the declaration of a nationwide state of emergency and the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Games.
It was compiled using data and input from 101 conversations with 83 individuals from the Cabinet and the health, trade and foreign ministries, all of whom were management level and above. Some were conducted off the record or on background.
An exclusive interview with Yasutoshi Nishimura, the Cabinet minister in charge of the country’s response to the coronavirus, revealed that the pushback caused by Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike’s use of the word “lockdown” in late March delayed the government’s decision to declare a state of emergency, the report said.
The report also included interviews with then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga and Shigeru Omi, chair of the government’s coronavirus expert panel, among other top level officials and policymakers.