Why has the Coronavirus Not Exploded in Japan?
Japan was one of the first countries to make global news on the Coronavirus after Wuhan, China.
The cruise ship Diamond Princess which was stranded off Japan’s coast, was filled with coronavirus patients whom the government would not let disembark and was one of the first major coronavirus news stories to capture the world’s attention. The stranded passengers ended up being guinea pigs as they were stuck for weeks and their experience has become an experiment in releasing the Coronavirus in an enclosed human community.
But, did this experiment yield results?
Japan’s proximity to China also makes it a logical next step in the progression of the coronavirus but Japan only has eleven hundred confirmed cases and 45 deaths, despite having one of the oldest populations on the planet.
In fact, Japan’s population is significantly older than Italy. Japan’s median age according to Statista is 2 years older on average than Italy’s median age.
What makes the data even more peculiar is that Japan is a nation heavily inclined to smoking. Japan has a higher smoking rate than Italy by almost 5%. So you have an elderly nation that abuses its lungs with cigarettes, the ideal group for an outbreak that would result in heavy mortality rates, as Italy has seen, yet luckily for Japan, it has not happened.
Compounding the puzzling nature of the lack of an outbreak in Japan is when you look at the response of the government. Instead of a draconian shelter in place order as many governments around the world have enacted, the people of Japan have been allowed to roam freely. Only school closures were the major move, as a whole the Japanese economy was allowed to function normally.
Furthermore, the CDC just found out that the virus survived on the Diamond Princess cruise ship for up to 17 days on some surfaces. So it was not a lack of traces of the virus being present near and about Japan.
Why was Japan able to avoid a major outbreak of the virus?
Japan's healthcare system is one of the strongest globally. Japan spends over 10% of its GDP on its healthcare system and has more than 80% of the healthcare cost for the nation funded by the government.
However, none of these statistics are impressive when compared to Italy which spends the same % of its GDP on healthcare and has about twice the rate of doctors per 1,000 citizens that Japan has. In fact after comparing the Japanese vs Italian healthcare systems, one would have to endorse Italy as having the larger and stronger healthcare infrastructure.
Is the answer found in the cultural habits of the Japanese people? Social restraint is such a normal part of Japanese culture that when asked to be done in an aggressive manner, it was not such a difficult task for the hyper polite and self effacing Japanese people.
Or could Japan have been infected with a weaker Coronavirus strand? There is no evidence or even a rationale for this thought.
At this point all of the possible answers are merely speculation. We won’t have answers for many years, if ever. Japan is now discussing easing the social distancing rules as new cases are very few to none at all some days. But Japan’s culture is so different from Italy or New York City (where the predominant national ancestry is from Italy) that Japan’s eased social distancing will maintain a considerable social distancing compared to the usual gregarious life in Italy or New York City.
Perhaps there will be much to learn about avoiding a pandemic outbreak from Japan in time as we can make proper studies on what happened this winter of 2020, a winter that will be forgotten by no one.