How the ‘Japan model’ – limited testing with robust contact tracing – kept the country from being initially overwhelmed by COVID-19

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[At the beginning of the pandemic,] Japan went its own way, limiting tests to only the most severe cases as other countries raced to screen as many people as possible. Medical experts worried that the approach would blind the country to the spread of infection, allowing cases to explode and swamping hospitals.

It hasn’t happened. Japan [had] one of the lowest mortality rates from Covid-19 among major nations. The medical system has not been overwhelmed. And the government never forced businesses to close, although many chose to… Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared Japan’s battle against the outbreak a resounding success, taking the country off an emergency footing — a sort of “lockdown lite” that lasted only a month and a half.

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Instead of testing widely to understand and limit the virus’s spread through the general population, Japan has focused on quickly containing small outbreaks through contact tracing. Instead of dictating strict constraints on daily life, it has focused on educating people about measures like social distancing and gently prodding them to follow along.

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In a speech on [May 25], Mr. Abe emphasized that the end of the state of emergency did not mean a return to normal life.

“What we need to aim for,” he said, “is establishing a new normal.”

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