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Japan Rings Containment Alarm as B.A.5 Strain Threatens Global COVID Rebound

Japan has historically handled the pandemic better than many other nations, with an excess of 32K deaths since the pandemic began in early 2020. 

Statesman News Service | Kolkata |

Japan, a nation that has refrained from imposing sweeping national lockdowns, is urging its regional authorities to step up their COVID-19 containment measures, as the Land of the Rising Sun leads the influx of COVID-19 cases worldwide.

In the last few days, Japan has recorded an excess of 200,000 daily new cases (with an exception of 197,666 cases on July 31st). It is more than any nation is currently facing in the world. 

The seventh wave in Japan has dashed hopes of reopening and returning to normal, at least for now, as the influx of new COVID-19 cases disrupts businesses and puts a strain on its healthcare.  

Japan has historically handled the pandemic better than many other nations, with an excess of 32K deaths since the pandemic began in early 2020. 

Instead of imposing sweeping lockdowns like India, China, and other countries, Japan instead relied on sporadic restrictions entrusted to its regional authorities at prefecture-level to battle the spread of the virus. 

Reuters reported that Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike urged its citizens to test frequently at no-cost testing setups at the city’s train stations and maintain safeguards like masks. The governor, however, did not impose any mandates. 

Some restrictions on the elderly’s movement were recommended in Osaka. 

As far as the concentration of new cases in Japan is concerned, two of Japan’s three largest prefectures appear to be the focal points of the recent outbreaks, with Tokyo reporting more than 30,000 daily cases and Osaka more than 25,000.

Global rebound?

Japan’s rise in daily new COVID-19 cases comes amid a global resurfacing of the virus, which has evolved into many sub-variants since the original Wuhan strain. 

In the last two weeks, global COVID-19 cases have remained largely even, or rather on the high side, with rising deaths.  

“We are seeing a continued increase in cases detected with COVID-19. It’s the fifth or sixth week in a row where we’re seeing increases in the reported number of cases,” the WHO said in a briefing on last Friday’s figures, adding that hospitalizations are on the rise.

Viruses are naturally programmed to evolve into more virulent forms with time and evade immunity generated by the body or vaccines. In the case of the COVID-19 virus that originated in Wuhan, the current wave of new cases is driven by a highly-infectious sub-variant of the virus called Omicron (B.A. 5). 

Studies have found that the newly evolved strain of COVID-19 can evade the immunity erected by the vaccines and booster doses and reinfect the already-infected or cause breakthrough infection in vaccinated people. 

However, current vaccines meant for the original Wuhan strain are still good-enough preventive measures to stall a severe reaction to the disease and prevent hospitalizations and deaths. 

But a laid-back attitude towards the pandemic, a quickly-evolving B.A. sub-variant and uneven vaccination initiatives around the world are widely believed to be the reasons behind the COVID u-turn. 

In a Tweet, Senior Advisor at World Bank Group Philip Schellekens said that Brazil, an upper-middle-income nation, is leading the developing world with new COVID-19 cases, while the United States, France, Italy, Germany, and Japan are the “drivers of the global surge” among high-income countries

Globally, there have been over 6.3 million documented deaths and 572,239,451 confirmed cases as of July 29th as per WHO’s tabs. 

The tourism hit

Of the many adversities Japan has faced from the pandemic, its tourism industry has been one of the hardest hit. 

A key contributor to its economy, pre-pandemic tourism in Japan would see over 32 million visitors annually flocking the nation. However, Japan has imposed some of the most stringent travel bans in the world since the pandemic. 

Last month, Japan announced lifting some of the restrictions and allowing specially-guided tours within the nation with strict restrictions in place for foreigners. 

Nevertheless, it’s far from even hoping to achieve the pre-pandemic numbers, even with the Yen at a two-decade low. 

According to a Nikkei Asia study, over the past two years, about one in ten hotels and travel companies in Japan appear to have permanently shut their doors because of COVID limitations. 

This finding raises doubts about the tourist sector’s potential to rebound as the nation begins to reopen its borders.