Japan contained Covid-19 much better than most other major countries. But now it faces the challenge of hosting the Olympics this summer – and hosting athletes from around the world – without causing further outbreaks.
The status of the Games has become a political issue in Japan, with polls showing most residents are in favor of postponing or canceling. Many people are frustrated with the way Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, during his first year in office, is handling the situation.
Yet despite all the criticism, it seems possible that Japan will have a successful Olympics while keeping the virus under control. This morning I want to explain the problem to you, with the help of some graphics and my colleague Motoko Rich, the Times bureau chief in Tokyo.
An incredible statistic
Japan’s Covid response was so successful that it achieved a remarkable feat: the total number of deaths declined in 2020, even as they increased in the United States and much of the world. Japan has kept its Covid toll low and its pandemic measures have led to a drop in some other deaths, such as those from flu and traffic accidents.
What did Japan do well?
He already had a culture of wearing a mask to prevent disease, and masks became almost ubiquitous early last year. (This article by Motoko, almost a year ago, compares mask habits in Japan and the United States) The government has also virtually closed its borders. And he was quick to focus on the contexts in which the coronavirus was most likely to spread, warning people to avoid the “three Cs” – closed spaces, crowded places and close contact.
A lack of vaccine emergency
This success, however, led to a problem. Japan has been slow to vaccinate its population, with only 2 percent of residents having received a vaccine. There is less urgency to do so in a country where fewer than 11,000 people have died from Covid.
Japanese regulators have so far only approved vaccines from Pfizer and are still evaluating those from Moderna and AstraZeneca, despite their obvious success elsewhere. Even though these vaccines are approved soon, government contracts with vaccine manufacturers do not require the delivery of many doses until the end of this year, Motoko notes. The country appears to be months away from reaching the immunization levels of the United States, Britain, Israel and other world leaders.
This is worrying, because Japan has not defeated Covid. Cases have increased in the past two months and the government has declared a state of emergency in several major cities, calling for further restrictions on activity. “Japan has recently lost control of the workload a bit,” Motoko says. “Of course, it has nothing to do with New Delhi, but it’s not like Sydney or Taipei either.”
Suga and the Olympic organizers insist that the Games continue, and there are billions of dollars at stake, not only for Japan, but also for Olympic organizers, major sponsors and television networks, including NBC. For athletes who have been training for years, the cancellation of the Games – after they were postponed last year – would be deeply disappointing.
More tests than fans
The biggest security measure is the ban on fans from outside of Japan. In typical Olympics, supporters make up the vast majority of visitors to the host country. By banning them, Japan has restricted entry to athletes, coaches, journalists and Olympic officials, many of whom will likely have been vaccinated. They will all have to pass several Covid tests before coming, and athletes will be tested every day during the Olympics, with others being tested less frequently.
The dangers will also decrease if Japan manages to meet its goal of vaccinating most residents 65 and over – those most vulnerable to severe symptoms of Covid – by July 23, when the Games begin.
Even if this happens, Japan will not be risk free. After months of welcoming few international visitors, the country will welcome tens of thousands of people. They will then interact with nearly 80,000 local Olympic volunteers, who will lead athletes and officials to Tokyo, act as interpreters and perform other duties. An Olympic Games without Covid seem unlikely. The question will be whether Japan can quickly identify, isolate and treat those infected with the virus.
In this way, the Games can present a particularly intense version of the balance that many countries will seek to achieve in 2021 – getting back to normal life while avoiding a new wave of a deadly virus.
“In Japan, historical currents are also important drivers,” Motoko and Hikari Hida wrote. “The wartime cancellation of one Olympic Games in Tokyo in 1940 and the triumphant staging of another a quarter of a century later are powerful symbols of first regret and then rebirth.”
Dr Megan Ranney, for CNN: “I wish we had limited the Games to athletes only, or insisted on vaccination for everyone – including spectators and host communities…. Yes, these events deserve to continue, for the sake of athletes – but we cannot claim that the currently recommended precautions are adequate.
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ARTS AND IDEAS
How to flourish
Many psychologists use the word fulfillment to describe the general well-being of a person – physical, mental and emotional, which feed off each other. “It’s living the good life,” Tyler J. VanderWeele, an epidemiologist, told The Times.
In the pandemic, many people have naturally done the opposite of flourishing: languishing or feeling stagnant with blunted emotions and motivation. A Times article on languor was one of our most read articles in recent weeks.
But there are some simple habits backed by science that can help you thrive. They include celebrating small moments in life, such as a hot bath or going out with a friend; set aside time once a week to reflect on the things for which you are grateful; and volunteering, even a few hours a week. (Are are you thriving? Take this quiz.)
“People think that in order to thrive, they have to do whatever version of their version of winning the Olympics, climbing a mountain, or having an epic experience,” said Adam Grant, a psychologist. The reality is the opposite. – Sanam Yar, morning writer