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August 15, 2022 Japan

Japan’s tight COVID rules stand out as virus risk ebbs

Even as other countries loosen coronavirus-related restrictions as data shows a lower risk of the worst outcomes, Japan has barely budged on its strict travel limits and isolation guidelines.

In the most recent example, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday dropped its recommendation that people potentially exposed to the virus quarantine for five days. It now suggests wearing a high-quality mask for 10 days and testing for the virus on the fifth day.

Meanwhile, Japan only last month shortened its isolation period for close contacts of COVID-19 cases to five days from seven. It allows as little as three days of quarantine with a negative test, but test kits can be hard to come by.

The country still lets in only 20,000 people per day, and requires proof of negative test result within the previous 72 hours — a provision that the U.S., the U.K. and Germany have done away with.

These stringent controls are creating stress for Japanese travelers in jeopardy of being blocked from returning home.

A Japanese man in his 50s who traveled to the U.K. for work in July found out he was positive for the virus before he was due to return home. He had no symptoms, but did not test negative for almost 10 days. During that time, he had to extend his hotel stay and take daily tests.

“A lot of people travel abroad during the summer,” he said. “I think the number of people stranded because they are having trouble returning to Japan will skyrocket.”

Recent data shows that the risks posed by COVID-19 are similar in Japan and the U.S. The fatality rate for new cases in the U.S. fell from about 0.8% in early February to 0.4% in early August, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

In Japan, government data shows that among people younger than 60 who tested positive for the virus in January and February, when the omicron variant became the main driver of infections, just 0.03% became severely ill and 0.01% died — levels on par with seasonal influenza. Last summer, with the delta variant, those figures came in at 0.56% and 0.08%, respectively.

But Japan has been much slower than the U.S. to update its coronavirus policy based on such data.

The reluctance to significantly loosen COVID-related restrictions stems in part from a health care system that puts a heavy burden on the limited number of designated facilities for coronavirus patients, leaving some areas at constant risk of a shortage of beds. Infectious disease experts last week urged the government to allow more hospitals to deal with suspected cases.

COVID-19 poses more of a threat to elderly Japanese and other at-risk segments of the population. The rate of severe illness among COVID-19 patients aged 60 and older was 2.49% in mid-July, and the fatality rate was 1.99% — three to four times as high as seasonal flu.

Source: https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/Coronavirus/Japan-s-tight-COVID-rules-stand-out-as-virus-risk-ebbs

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