Japan acted like the virus had gone. Now it’s spread everywhere.

Bloomberg -- Aug 02
After initial success, Japan is facing a reality check on the coronavirus.

The country garnered global attention after containing the first wave of Covid-19 with what it referred to as the “Japan Model” -- limited testing and no lockdown, nor any legal means to force businesses to close. The country’s finance minister even suggested a higher “cultural standard” helped contain the disease.

But now the island nation is facing a formidable resurgence, with Covid-19 cases hitting records nationwide day after day. Infections first concentrated in the capital have spread to other urban areas, while regions without cases for months have become new hotspots. And the patient demographic -- originally younger people less likely to fall seriously ill -- is expanding to the elderly, a concern given that Japan is home to the world’s oldest population.

Experts say that Japan’s focus on the economy may have been its undoing. As other countries in Asia, which experienced the coronavirus earlier than those in the West, wrestle with new flare ups of Covid-19, Japan now risks becoming a warning for what happens when a country moves too fast to normalize -- and doesn’t adjust its strategy when the outbreak changes.

While Japan declared a state of emergency to contain the first wave of the virus, it didn’t compel people to stay home or businesses to shut. That was ended in late May and officials quickly pivoted to a full reopening in an attempt to get the country’s recessionary economy back on track. By June, restaurants and bars were fully open while events like baseball and sumo-wrestling were back on -- a stark contrast to other places in the region like Singapore which were re-opening only in cautious phases.

A number of factors contributed to Japan’s resurgence, according to public health experts. The state of emergency may have been lifted too early, before infections had sufficiently slowed. That also resulted in an ill-defined reopening plan -- leaving officials slow to take steps when new infection hotspots first emerged in nightclubs late in June. As cases increased, officials continued to talk down the dangers and insist they were mainly confined to nightlife spots.

- Bloomberg