Covid-19 deaths in ageing Japan fueled by low immunity and overwhelmed hospitals

Coronavirus also known as COVID-19. It is an infectious disease that is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Symptoms of Covid-19 may be moderate and people can recover without any special treatment. It is possible for some people with either low immunities or comorbidities to become seriously ill and they may require medical attention. Japan had maintained some of the strictest pandemic restrictions. However, the growing population of frail elderly and low immunity against Covid-19 is increasing the cases of coronavirus deaths in Japan. 

One of the lowest Covid-19 mortality rates was maintained by Japan initially but the rates have now been trending upward since the end of 2022. On 20 January this year, Japan hit an all-time high. They surpassed the US, UK, and also South Korea.

Japan’s borders were closed to foreign visitors from 2020 till the middle of June 2022. They opened its borders cautiously. Initially, travelers had to buy medical insurance, be masked in all public places, and also be a part of a package tour. Schools had imposed bans on lunchtime conversations, which resulted in many schoolchildren eating their meals in silence. 

According to sources, restrictions have now been eased but people are still being affected by Covid-19 due to their low immunity. Hence, causing spikes in numbers.
Lately, most of the Covid-19 fatalities have been among elderly people with comorbidities. This contrasts with the initial spate of deaths that were caused due to pneumonia and were often treated in the intensive care unit. 

According to Hitoshi Oshitani, one of Japan’s leading virologists, these deaths are difficult to prevent through treatment. He is also a former regional advisor to the WHO on communicable disease surveillance and response. He also mentioned there were many sub-variants, immune-escaping variants, and decreasing immunity that were making it extremely difficult to prevent infections. According to Dr. Oshitani, Covid was only the trigger.

When the human host’s immune system is not capable of fighting an infectious agent it is known as “immune escape”. There are new versions of the Omicron variant that are masters of immune evasion. The Covid-19 deaths in Japan peaked in January 2023. The daily deaths due to Covid were per million people from July 2021 to January 2023. 

Covid-19 deaths mostly took place in cities like Osaka and Tokyo before the Omicron variant struck. However, the cases are now all across the country. The oldest society in the world by various measures in Japan. The share of elderly people has been increasing each year since 1950.

According to an epidemiologist and director at the Foundation for Tokyo Policy Research, Kenji Shibuya, elderly people who are living in community clusters or nursing homes are not receiving prompt treatment. Although receiving faster treatment can help people from Covid, it is only government-designated hospitals that can treat the infected. The hospitals have been overwhelmed by the high number of cases. 

Dr. Shibuya mentioned that going forward Covid will be treated as a form of influenza. This allows all the clinics and hospitals to treat patients that have the virus.