Ross Clark Ross Clark

The Covid chasm between East and West

Photo by Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images

Sweden has received quite a kicking for its decision to avoid a lockdown: look at its death rate, critics say, which at 435 per million is several times that of neighbouring Denmark (99) and Norway (44). But there is another country that has taken the Swedish route which is rather harder to criticise. 

In Japan, restaurants, shops, hair salons have remained open throughout and there have been no restrictions on personal movement. Moreover, in contrast to South Korea and Taiwan, there has been little testing – Japan has performed 2,300 tests per million residents, compared with 920,000 per million in South Korea (Britain, by the way, has performed 63,000 tests per million). Even Sweden, on 24,000 tests per million has outperformed Japan on that front.

There is a fundamental difference in the way that this virus has behaved in the Far East compared with Europe and America

Japan did conduct some test and trace early on in the epidemic. But it can hardly claim to have snuffed out the virus by doing so. Back in April, a Tokyo hospital tested all its patients for infection with Sars-CoV-2 – the virus which causes Covid-19 – and found that 7 per cent of the non-Covid patients were infected. That compares with the ONS figure released last week that 6.78 per cent of the UK population have antibodies to the virus, suggesting that they have been infected at some point.

Japan, then, has not used any of the standard measures for tackling Covid-19 – lockdown, test, track and trace – with any great vigour. Neither has it succeeded in snuffing out the virus by any other means. If you think Boris Johnson or Donald Trump have been reckless in some way, you ought to be berating the Japanese government far more.

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