How Japan’s Quick Action Helped Slow COVID-19

Infection rates continue to rise in many countries around the world, but Japan is headed in the other direction. The government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has not always been received favorably. Critics from within and without have repeatedly raised questions about the way Prime Minister Abe Shinzo has handled the crisis. And yet, as we gear up to end the first half of 2020, it is clear that in Japan’s case, the result speaks for itself.

On May 25, the Prime Minister lifted the nationwide state of emergency, which was first put in place on April 16. This was initially planned to end on the 6th of May but was eventually extended to the end of the month. However, several days before the specified date, the government saw it fit to slowly open its economy and ease restrictions. The decision was made based on the admirable results of Japan’s proactiveness in the time of COVID-19.

While PM Abe may not have followed the hardline approach that many of his peers have—such as full lockdown nationally and internationally and strong military involvement—his actions have proven to be effective.

He called for the closure of all schools—elementary, junior high, and high schools – starting March 2. By April 7, the prefectures of Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama, Chiba, Osaka, Hyōgo, and Fukuoka were put under a state of emergency.

From the get-go, the Prime Minister was quick to surround himself with capable people, especially medical experts who were specially equipped to handle a pandemic. Unlike some of his peers, PM Abe gave his taskforce his vote of confidence by relinquishing some degree of control. This translated to the efficient implementation of testing and treatment. By using what is now being called the Japanese model—cluster-based testing—the country has been able to cut on costs and make tracing more specific.

The Japanese government has also shown that it is not near-sighted, looking towards the future instead. By not implementing a full economic shutdown, it has avoided the severe financial stress that other countries are facing. It has been able to balance the need for health & safety and smart economics.

In the same vein, PM Abe has released two stimulus packages, the total of which amounts to more than 200 trillion yen (US$2 trillion). This monetary assistance covers both households and businesses, particularly the small and medium-sized ones. This incomparable move, which allots money equivalent to about 40% of the country’s gross domestic product, is meant to help those in need now and to prepare for the future.

“We must protect business and employment by any means in the face of the tough road ahead. We must also take all necessary measures to prepare for another wave of the epidemic,” says Prime Minister Abe Shinzo.

Furthermore, the Japanese government—the Agency for Medical Research and Development (AMED) and the National Institute for Infectious Deceases (NIID) in particular—is on top of its research game. From the start, these agencies have been working on three fronts:

  1. Development of diagnostic methods: Research on the development of diagnostic tests for the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and Development of serum antibody diagnostic system.
  2. Treatment development: Selection of therapeutic drug candidates by in silico analysis and Antiviral drug development.
  3. Vaccine development: Research on the development of vaccines of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and Study on the control of a novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV).

These agencies are just as committed to finding solutions for their citizens as they are to sharing their findings with the rest of the world, collaborating with their peers in other countries.

The Japanese private sector is just as hands-on when it comes to finding solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the forefront is Takara Bio, a company known for its decades of experience with genetics. It is currently working toward the application of a DNA-based approach to a cure, going where no project has gone before.

Pharma company AnGes Inc. has been making the headlines for its potential COVID-19 vaccine, which is slated for clinical trials in July. The company has been working with Osaka University since March in an effort to find a vaccine for the virus.

Another company, Shionogi & Co. announced early in May that they are preparing for clinical trials for their coronavirus vaccine by the end of this year. If all goes well, they aim to release the vaccine by fall of next year. Aside from the vaccine, they are also looking to create a therapeutic medication for those who are infected. They are working with UMN Pharma Inc. (a subsidiary) and the National Institute of Infectious Diseases.

This is not to say that other countries and companies are not doing their part in finding solutions to the pandemic. However, Japan’s role in leading the charge is undeniable.

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