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The war against the new coronavirus is being fought on three fronts: medical professionals are on the front lines working to beat the infections; governments are trying to secure domestic public support for difficult measures; and those same governments compete in the court of international public opinion for credibility and leadership. Japan should be winning all three fights; instead the government is struggling, failing to effectively combat the infections and unable to win the confidence of publics at home and abroad.

In some senses, Japan’s failures are inexplicable. This government has had ample experience with contagious diseases and should have anticipated and planned for this type of contingency. According to a 2019 OECD analysis, Japan suffers on average four times more human casualties per inhabitant from disaster risks than other OECD members. Home to five of the 20 most dense metropolitan areas in the 300-city OECD metropolitan database, Japan’s high population density and international exchanges increase the risk of infectious disease outbreaks.

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