Monday saw a mixed bag of figures in Japan’s battle against the novel coronavirus. On the plus side, daily cases nationwide dropped below 1,000 for the first time in three months, with severe cases of COVID-19 in Tokyo falling into single figures for the first time since Jan. 2.

Unfortunately, the trend in fatalities has yet to catch up with this slowdown. The country’s cumulative deaths linked to COVID-19 rose by 73 from Sunday to 7,056, topping the 7,000 mark just 12 days after hitting 6,000.

While infections are falling, commentator Xiaochen Su strikes a note of caution. The steps that have most effectively suppressed COVID-19 around the world are widespread testing, aggressive contact tracing and open public communication. Japan follows none of these best practices, he warns.

Vaccine call center inundated with inquiries | NIPPON TV NEWS 24 JAPAN
Vaccine call center inundated with inquiries | NIPPON TV NEWS 24 JAPAN

But never fear, a vaccine is here. Inoculations are set to begin Wednesday, with retailer Aeon offering hundreds of venues across the country for mass vaccinations. Dry ice makers, meanwhile, are scrambling to ensure the Pfizer shots can be kept ultracold as they are whisked across Japan and into arms.

The impending rollout offers PM Yoshihide Suga a possible lifeline as he faces plummeting public support. But that alone might not be enough to save him, Kyodo reports: “The only scenario for the prime minister to regain momentum” is a smooth vaccine rollout, an economic recovery and a successful Tokyo Games, says one ruling party official. Yikes.

Monday’s (and last Monday’s) new COVID-19 cases by prefecture (20 or over): Tokyo 266 (276), Chiba 136 (155), Saitama 94 (121), Kanagawa 71 (121), Osaka 69 (119), Fukuoka 46 (57), Aichi 42 (43), Hokkaido 41 (50), Hyogo 27 (60). Source: Japan COVID-19 Coronavirus Tracker