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A second wave of Covid-19: lessons from Japan

A Japanese island which lifted the state of emergency imposed because of the coronavirus has now been struck by a second wave of Covid-19. 

The island of Hokkaido in northern Japan became the first region in the country to declare a state of emergency due to Covid-19 in late February. A tourist hotspot, Hokkaido would have welcomed thousands of Chinese tourists over the New Year, and its first confirmed Covid-19 case was a Chinese woman from Wuhan.

During a 3-week lockdown, the local government traced the virus and isolated anyone who had made contact with victims.

After three weeks, the number of new cases had dwindled to just one or two a day. On March 19th the state of emergency was lifted, and schools re-opened at the beginning of April.

But a second wave of Covid-19 struck the island hard.

Last week,  Hokkaido recorded 135 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus. This time, the virus does not seem to have been imported, with BBC reporting that “none of the new cases are foreigners, nor have any of those infected travelled outside Japan in the last month”. Instead the virus seems to have been brought to the island by workers from other regions of Japan.

A new state of emergency has now been imposed in Hokkaido since April 14th.

Hokkadio’s experience has drawn comparisons with the experience of South Korea where the virus was also contained by aggressive actions by government, but where, to date, a second wave does not seem to have arisen.

South Korea undertook a widespread testing program to track the epidemic. Japan didn’t. It’s government decided large-scale testing was a “waste of resources”. Now it has committed to more testing but it is behind the curve in terms of infrastructure for carrying out tests and making results known. Professor Kenji Shibuya of King’s College London told BBC that this meant  authorities in Japan don’t have a clear idea of how the virus is moving through the population.

“We are in the middle of an explosive phase of the outbreak,” he told BBC. “The key lesson,  is even if you are successful in containment locally but there is transmission going on in other parts of the country, as long as people are moving around, it’s difficult to maintain a virus-free status”.

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