Covid Is Disappearing in Japan. Why?

Comparing Japan and the United States in COVID-19 Response

DID YOU KNOW that we had a day in which Japan reported zero new deaths from COVID-19 infection earlier this month? Yes, you heard correctly: No new cases. How did daily COVID cases drop from a high of 30,000 in August earlier this year to only 50 last Monday?

In the United States, we have a seven-day moving average of nearly 85,000 new cases of COVID19 infection. The New York Times reports these disturbing statistics: Ahead of Thanksgiving, the country averaged approximately 95,000 new cases a day, an increase of about 25 percent over the last two weeks. Worsening conditions in the Upper Midwest and Northeast have been the primary driver of this uptrend.

Again, The New York Times: We had over 1,000 deaths from the disease yesterday. Overall that adds to the 48 million cases we’ve seen here and 777,000 deaths. If you live in the United States and want to see the statistics for your state and the nation, here you will find an easy to understand chart:

Coronavirus in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count

Japan COVID-19 plunge

Enter Japan. I have a particular affinity for the nation, in part because half of my family lives there. I am also privileged to know Empress Masako-sama, which dates back to our college years together.

Let’s get back to our remarkable story. On Nov. 7, Japan recorded no daily deaths from COVID-19 for the first time in more than a year. New daily infections peaked at more than 25,000 during an August wave driven by the infectious Delta variant.

Let’s compare Japan and the United States. Last Monday, Japan reported 50 daily cases of COVID-19 and one death from the disease. The caseload has not been that low since June of last year. And on Monday, Japan reported one death, even as the United States reported over 1,200 deaths.

What about the two largest cities in each nation? Tokyo, with its population of 14 million, reported 27 new cases of COVID. New York City, with a population of 9 million, has been averaging 1,400 new cases daily.

If you want to track the Japanese statistics, here is your link:

Japan: the latest coronavirus counts, charts, and mapsThere have been 1,727,186 infections and 18,367 coronavirus-related deaths reported in the country since the pandemic…

Is it masking? Or the high vaccination rate?

Is Japan doing so well because of its 79 percent vaccination rate? Or maybe it is the nearly universal wearing of face masks. When I ask my Japanese relatives if they find wearing the mask cumbersome, the answer inevitably seems to be no. There has been a long tradition of mask-wearing, especially in winter, in large part to protect others.

But I don’t think the ubiquitous masking is the only reason for Japan’s success against COVID. Go to Singapore or Seoul, and you will find good citizens faithfully wearing their masks.

What about the impressive nearly 80 percent vaccination rate in the country of the rising sun? I mentioned South Korea, where 81.4 percent of the population is vaccinated. And yet COVID-19 infections in South Korea are peaking — the highest daily average reported — now at 3,276 new infections reported daily.

South Korea: the latest coronavirus counts, charts, and maps44 infections per 100K people reported last seven days COVID-19 infections in South Korea are at their peak – the highest…

Provocative new theory

Professor Ituro Inoue (National Institute of Genetics in Mishima, Japan) believes that the new delta variant of COVID-19 has transformed into a flawed virus that cannot copy itself. Thus, the novel coronavirus is self-destructing in Japan.

Here he speaks with Japan Times (Nov. 22, 2021) earlier this week:

“The Delta variant in Japan was highly transmissible and keeping other variants out. But as the mutations piled up, we believe it eventually became a faulty virus, and it was unable to make copies of itself. Considering that the cases haven’t been increasing, we think that at some point during such mutations, it headed straight toward its natural extinction.”

Is this possible? The website People’s Pharmacy reminds us that a natural extinction has occurred once before. Asia had a coronavirus outbreak in 2003, but the SARS outbreak eventually disappeared, sans vaccine.

We shall see if the success continues in Japan, but one wonders if we will be devastated by a new mutated form of COVID before declaring victory. The stock market plummeted today with the news of a new variant of COVID-19 in South Africa.

South African scientists detected a small number of the variant known as B.1.1.529 early this week in samples taken from Nov. 14 to Nov. 16, 2021. The country has identified about 100 cases, mostly from its most populated province, Gauteng, where we find Johannesburg and Pretoria.

I hope we do not all pay the price for focusing on getting me three COVID-19 jabs and not doing nearly as well for our friends in less well-off countries.


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Michael Hunter, MD
Michael Hunter, MD
I received an undergraduate degree from Harvard, a medical degree from Yale, and trained in radiation oncology at the University of Pennsylvania. I practice radiation oncology in the Seattle area.
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