Cases of Covid-19 in Japan fell after the Olympics. Photo / Getty Images
If you remember the winter when Covid started causing new headaches, there was a saving grace for many of us who were locked in our homes doing nothing: the Tokyo Olympics.
Despite our enjoyment of the Olympics from afar, there was some debate as to whether the games should have taken place, given what was going on in Japan at the time.
The nation of 125 million people had done well enough for a country of its size and population density before that date, keeping Covid cases relatively under control and preventing deaths from the virus.
But then things started heading south in July with the introduction of the Delta strain.
It was a terrible time for Japan, as the Olympics were about to bring athletes and dignitaries from around the world to the country just as cases were starting to take off.
Many residents and health experts wanted the games canceled.
There were fears that cases were getting out of hand and mass deaths, and it first emerged that those concerns were justified, as cases started to pile up throughout the show.
Things were not going well after the athletes returned home either, as infections continued to rise.
At the end of August, Japan – which has the world’s third largest economy – was recording more than 24,000 cases per day. Deaths have also started to increase, with the seven-day average hovering around 50-60 for several weeks.
However, something truly remarkable has happened since then, and experts around the world cannot believe what they are seeing.
As cases increase in other parts of Asia, infections in Japan have fallen to their lowest level in nearly a year.
Daily new cases in Tokyo fell to just 87 on Monday, the city’s lowest tally since November 2 last year and a massive drop from the thousands of new cases recorded each day a few weeks ago in sadness.
Other cities across the country are experiencing the same trend, with the average number of new daily infections dropping by more than 8,000 in the past three weeks.
Experts scratch their heads
The huge drop in the number of cases is obviously good news for Japanese residents, but the reasons are puzzling experts around the world.
Professor Mark Woolhouse, an epidemiologist at the University of Edinburgh, said the dip was likely due to the Delta variant appearing to “move faster through populations.”
“The tips of the Delta variant tend to be sharper. They go up faster and they go down faster,” he told UK inews.
While the decline in cases in itself is not a “particular surprise,” cases have declined “rapidly,” he said.
“We saw it for the first time during the first wave of Delta, which hit India and which had the same characteristic; it went up very quickly, and it went down very quickly,” he said. declared.
He added that the Delta variant has a shorter “build time”, which means how long it takes for one infected person to infect another.
He and Japanese government experts attributed the drop in cases largely to vaccinations and recent restrictions linked to the state of emergency.
Much of Japan has been under emergency virus measures for much of the year, with restrictions finally being lifted last week due to the drop in infections.
Other experts, like Kyoto University’s Hiroshi Nishiura, say the recent spike in cases has ended due to changes in the flow of people, with fewer travelers on vacation and socializing in Japan.
Nishiura believes that infectivity, measured by the actual number of reproductions, is correlated with vacations.
“During the holidays, we meet people we rarely meet, and in addition, there is a substantial chance of eating together in a face-to-face environment,” Nishiura, one of the top disease modellers, told Reuters infectious diseases advising the government.
He said the recent record-breaking cases in South Korea and Singapore could be linked to the mid-year vacation, and a convergence of Asian and Western vacations at the end of the year could lead to a “nightmare.”
Another school of thought is that the virus enters vicious circles, fueled by a particular age group.
Jason Tetro, a Canadian-based infectious disease expert and author of The Germ Code, said that different age cohorts become a “fuel” for the spread of the virus, depending on vaccination rates and previous infections, at different moments.
“Without elimination of the virus, we will continue to see peaks until 85% of the population is immune to the dominant strain,” he told Reuters.
“It’s the only way out of these vicious circles.”
Another theory is that Covid-19 and its variants tend to move in cycles of two months, although Tetro argued that the cycles were “more a factor of human nature than mother nature”.
Fears as Japan heads for winter
Although cases have declined significantly, there are fears of another wave as the country heads into winter.
More than 60% of the population is now fully vaccinated, but some fear the health system will be overwhelmed again if a new wave emerges.
The rollout of vaccination in Japan was initially slow compared to other G7 countries. Frontline health workers were gibbed on February 17, but deployment to the elderly did not begin until the end of April.
However, Japan recovered quickly and now more than 158 million doses have been administered, with 63.5% of people aged 12 and over having suffered a double injection. That’s 57 percent of the total population.