TOKYO — As the omicron variant surges around the world, Japan’s overall coronavirus cases and deaths have been plummeting. And no one seems to know exactly why.
Call it the hunt for a potential “X factor,” such as genetics, that may explain the trend and inform how Japan could deal with the next wave. While the new highly transmissible omicron variant has appeared in the country and experts suspect there is already some community spread, the overall transmission rate of the virus and coronavirus-related deaths in Japan have remained low.
“Honestly, we do not know the exact reason behind the sudden drop in covid deaths in Japan,” said Taro Yamamoto, professor of global health at Nagasaki University’s Institute of Tropical Medicine.
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, Japan has had much lower rates of infection and death than in many Western countries, though there was a severe spike over the summer that overwhelmed hospitals.
Milder outbreaks — compared with the ravages of the virus in Europe and the Americas — were found in many Asian countries and were attributed often to a public accustomed to health measures from previous experiences with respiratory illnesses like the SARS and MERS epidemics. Researchers had also looked into genetics, diet and other factors that may have spared East Asian countries like Japan and South Korea from the high death tolls elsewhere.
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