Japan’s failure in aggressive testing of Covid19 but surprisingly successful approach in flattening the curve

4 min readMar 21, 2020


It’s been almost 3 weeks at the time of writing this that Japan has closed schools, had some businesses started telecommuting and people beginning social distancing.

In the media several sources have pointed out that Japan failed miserably in quarantining the princess cruise ship and not being aggressive in its testing of Covid19. However, The process in letting people off the ship was very orderly and organized. Some were tested before being released into the general population. On a Japanese news source the people told to go home self isolated themselves keeping social distance.

It was also the suspicion in Japan’s lack of aggressive approach that the numbers were being played down to avoid canceling the 2020 Olympics. Since the Princess Cruise ship debacle Japan had a good two weeks to get their act together in controlling this thing.

There were also news outlets that reported that people were being turned down for testing. Why was Japan being so strict in its decision to decide who to test and not to test? Only people who showed symptoms could be tested. To some people this showed Japans lack of preparedness and incompetence of its leadership.

As we look at the numbers growing in several countries it is surprising to see that Japans numbers have remained low. From the beginning of the pandemic Japan was the 2nd country with the most cases. But as the weeks have passed Japan has slowly dropped from the top 5 than from the top 10. Japan’s infection rate has slowed down though it still increases day to day.

At the time of this writing Japan has tested over 18,000 people. Of those tested 1010 have been confirmed cases of covid19. 50 of them critical. 193 recovered. 35 dead. About 5 – 6% of people test positive.

Even if we thought Japan was doing a poor job take these numbers and magnify them by 3 or even 5 the numbers would still be considerably low compared to western countries.

Also if the number was higher we would see more people report being sick and hospitals and clinics would have an influx of patients due to unknown cluster outbreaks. This could be a lot worse. But it is not.

So what has Japan done in the past three weeks to flatten the curve? Why has it not spread more? Why are the numbers so low?

There have been about 15 cluster outbreaks reported from Hokkaido, Aichi, Tokyo to Osaka and other prefectures.

In Hokkaido, the first major cluster outbreak, Japan sent a team of infectious disease experts to assess the situation. From the observations here they realized they had about a good week or two to stop this thing from spreading quickly into the population. Schools and shops were closed and Hokkaido was in a state of emergency.

It was also up to the Japanese people to follow the directions of the experts to prevent the virus from spreading. And the Japanese complied. Even before it became mandatory people were already wearing masks and self isolating and keeping social distance.

Since Hokkaido other prefectures have followed suit and have taken preventive measures to reduce the spread of the virus. From the end of February to now.

The school year usually ends at the end of March. The Prime Minister closed schools across the the country at the end of February. Also large gathering of people and events have been cancelled. There is a two week mandatory quarantine set on travelers who came from countries hardest hit with the virus including Chinese and South Korean tourists. Also large companies started telecommuting for its employees.

On the news, on the train, in my neighborhood their are constant announcements warning residents of the Corona Virus and what steps to take for preventive measures. Many restaurants even have alcohol spray at the entrance of the doors (this is a regular practice even before covid19.)

Tests kits are readily available only if one shows symptoms. Most test kids are reserved for areas that have larger cluster outbreaks.

In Japan everywhere I go a vast majority of people do wear masks. Hygiene is very important and emphasized. Awareness and courteous actions a constant reminder on my daily commute in the train.

As we look at the early preventive measures Japan has set in place it also is being realistic and cautious in moving forward.

Though Japan may not seem as aggressive in its testing it has done surprisingly well in flattening the curve.

The numbers speak for themselves. It’s my hope that other western nations can also look to Japan, South Korea, China, Taiwan and Hong Kong as examples to model in fighting against the spread of covid19.