There’s an old saying that it’s always darkest before the dawn, and sure enough after Japan’s most infectious wave of COVID-19 infections by far, we’ve been given an unexpected respite. However, why this is and how long it will last remain to be seen.
Around mid-to-late July cases began to skyrocket from about 3,000 a day to roughly 25,000 per day by around late August. However, just as fast as it shot up, the number of new cases took a nosedive to 549 on Oct 10, amounting to a 98 percent decrease in about a month.
▼ Number of daily new cases in Japan during 2021
Not only is that a staggering drop, but the current rate of daily new cases is the lowest its been in all of 2021. Upon hearing this news, the cynical parts of us will undoubtedly assume that Japan just stopped testing as much, however, even by the metric of testing rates we’re still seeing record lows.
Despite the 98 percent drop in cases, there has only been a 45 percent decrease in PCR tests taken. Furthermore, among those tests the rate of positive results slid from about 17 percent to 1.2 percent, which is a 93 percent decrease and once again a record low for 2021.
▼ The dark green line represents the Number of PCR Tests in Japan (7-Day Average). The light green line represents the Percentage of Positive Test Results (7-Day Average) multiplied by 10,000 so the different rates of change can be more easily seen.
So, now that COVID-19 certainly appears to be waning fast in Japan, the question is: What did we do to accomplish this?
Well, we don’t know…
The truth of the matter is that from the beginning of this slide in cases until now, there hadn’t been any major change in behavior or policy in the country. Although there was a state of emergency in place for much of the year, it was a far cry from the lockdowns enacted in other countries and didn’t disrupt daily life for many people. Given the timing, a case could be made that the Olympics led to the last explosive wave, but that still wouldn’t explain how it evaporated so quickly.
Although Japan was off to a really slow start compared to other developed countries, the vaccination rate has been steadily on the rise and currently about 64 percent of the population is fully vaccinated. However, the rate has been very steady and no significant changes occurred during the period of the nosedive in cases – unless crossing a threshold of 43 percent of the population becoming fully vaccinated is somehow especially effective at curbing COVID-19.
▼ Percentage of fully-vaccinated people in Japan
Doctor and medical journalist Yutaka Morita appeared on television to speak about the drop in cases and said that among the other medical professionals he spoke to, about half attributed it to vaccinations and the other half simply had no idea. Morita concluded that we may ultimately never know why this happened.
Readers of the news online also had a mixture of opinions on the matter with some also concluding that we simply might not have the ability to understand why right now.
“No matter how much we think about it, it might simply be beyond modern science’s understanding.”
“I wonder if all the people who were destined to get COVID-19 from their unsafe behavior already have.”
“Who cares? It’s going down and that’s all that counts.”
“I really hope this is the end.”
“I wonder if maybe we’ve been wrong about the cause of infection this whole time too.”
“I hope they find out why this happened in time for the next wave.”
“It sounds like the Olympics are far enough behind us now.”
“Looking at other countries, only Japan seems to have dropped so fast. It’s strange.”
“It’s probably because of the vaccines, but I wonder if it’s also possible that the virus mutated into something that PCR tests can’t detect.”
“Either way, it’s good news. I hope normal life will returns soon, especially now that I understand how precious it is.”
As far as the reasons for this recent trend, the only thing we can be sure of is that Japan’s COVID-19 contact tracing app was absolutely not responsible to slowing the infection rate at all. So until we learn more, we guess the best advice for anyone living in Japan is to keep doing whatever you’ve been doing since Aug 27 because it appears to be working.
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