Japan’s COVID-19 success story

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Women wear protective face masks as they walk along Nakamise Street at Asakusa district amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Tokyo, Japan, July 22, 2020. Credit: REUTERS/Issei Kato.

More than 140,000 Americans have died from COVID-19. Now the U.S. has one of the highest coronavirus death rates in the world. Of the countries that still are plagued by the virus, only Chile and the UK are worse. 

Meanwhile in Japan, only 1000 people have died from the virus. That’s despite the fact that Japan is home to the world’s oldest population, the largest city, and one of the first big outbreaks outside China, aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship. 

“One of the systems that they put in place was whenever they detected an outbreak somewhere, there were a few positive cases, they immediately went in and did contact tracing. That method worked pretty well for awhile,” says New York Times Tokyo bureau chief Motoko Rich.

After several outbreaks in nursing homes and hospitals, Japan declared a state of emergency. The country doesn’t have the authority to lock down businesses and order citizens to stay home, but Rich says it didn’t need to do so to get a handle on the pandemic.

“It’s a society where people tend to follow rules or requests when a government makes a very strong request that everybody stay home,” Rich says. “It’s also a country in which wearing masks is really normal. During flu season, you’ll see people on the trains wearing masks, so when they were asked to do so because of the pandemic, there was no political discussion of it. People just masked up.”