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Dr Kazuhiro Tateda, Member of Japan Government Coronavirus Panel
Dr Kazuhiro Tateda, Member of Japan Government Coronavirus Panel

Suppressing the next wave is now of utmost priority to the Japan government, whilst slowly opening up the economy and tourism. In conversation with Dr Kazuhiro Tateda, immediate past President of Japan’s Infectious Disease Association and Member of Government’s Coronavirus Panel

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Published: Sun 12 Dec 2021, 3:15 PM

With the outbreak of Omicron, Japan has once again tightened its border rules. Since the beginning of the novel Coronavirus pandemic in 2020, the Asian nation has been adhering to strict quarantine rules and measures in place to stop the spread of the infectious disease that has claimed the lives of up to 18,365 people until now.

In an exclusive interview with Khaleej Times, Dr Tateda confirms that even as Japan is on the brink of the sixth wave, vaccination has helped a great deal in bringing down the number of cases.

“Even as the fifth wave has passed in Japan, small number of cases are equally important to track the spread. I am glad that along with vaccination, the culture of continuing to wear masks and practicing social distancing has not waned off, which has in fact helped keep the numbers in control,” Dr Tateda says.

Best tracking practices

Not many are aware that Japan keeps a very close eye on the arrivals of other nationalities, including its citizens in the country. This is done by a mix of tests and mobile app tracking.

Prior to/on arrival, everybody needs to undergo a mandatory saliva test followed by the installing of two apps — SOS and Cocoa. The SOS app tracks the individual during the mandatory period of quarantine — 3, 10 or 14 days, depending of the country of arrival. Besides, making a video call daily to the quarantined individual, the SOS app is also an important disseminator of healthcare information regarding the virus. The Cocoa app is mandatory since it allows the information to the authorities if you may have come in contact with a Covid-19 infected person during your stay in Japan.

Failure to install the apps or any move to delete the apps may result in punishment by the rule of the land.

Dr Tateda adds: “The SOS and Cocoa apps are preventive measures to stop the spread, and so are the antigen as well as PCR testings. If I may compare Japan to other developed nations, we still lack in advanced tracking of the affected, but one good thing is that culturally, we are well-behaved. Hence, the number of cases that have decreased may be attributed to our own responsibility of reducing the risk in Japan.”

Boost for booster

Dr Tateda reveals that in 2021, almost 40 million people in Japan had received vaccination shots in the months of June, July and August, which led to a rapid reduction in the cases in August and September. However, he also adds that the authorities are awaiting the effects of the waning after six months. In his opinion, this is where the start of booster doses should be mandatory and quick.

“Since the antibody effect will decrease starting January 2022, we are hoping to begin booster doses this month onwards. We are lucky to have witnessed that booster shots work well and this will help reduce the number of cases and the expected sixth wave of the pandemic. But we don’t know yet. Rather than waiting for the arrival of the sixth wave, we are all hands-on deck on how to overcome it. One such practice is getting the booster dose.”

Lessons from the world

As the nation starts to welcome tourists and on the verge of restarting the economy fully, international collaboration and exchange of information are very important to prevent the outbreak again. Dr Tateda affirms that the government is studying the Japanese data very closely. Now with very few cases reported within Japan, there are still strict curbs in place to prevent the spread of the cases.

He adds: “As we slowly try to reactivate the economy, there is a lot to be learned from the experiences in the US and Europe. We have seen the rapid fall of cases with vaccinations and masks. This, in turn, led the nations to quickly open their markets, thus causing another wave of the pandemic. We must avoid this under all circumstances. Here, the Japanese government has tried to reactivate the economy slowly. So far, it’s going well but we are still very careful. As the holiday season begins to appear, Dr Tateda advices the Japanese people to be mindful. “We love the Christmas and the New Year Season and celebrate to the fullest. Since the next wave is expected soon, we have to be careful.”

But Dr Tateda is also optimistic that the next wave may not be as deadly because of the way of Japanese culture. “As you may know that most of the cases of Covid-19 till date are Delta. And it’s the most dominant of the lot as well. The Covid-19 transmission is mainly due to micro droplets during conversation and eating. In Japan, 99.9 per cent passengers in public transport wear masks and maintain social distance. This is a huge difference between us and other nations who have seen the widespread of this disease. Wearing masks is becoming a part of the culture in Japan. This is a good thing and plays a major role in us successfully beating the virus.”

Now, with the Omicron strain sweeping across the globe, the cautious country is taking stricter precautions to prevent the ‘most transmissible’ variant of all.


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