Written by Julian Macfarlane exclusively for SouthFront
Japan’s COVID Crisis and Denial
Japan has announced that it will begin vaccinations of key medical and governmental officials in late February—in other words, in early April. Vaccination of “high risk” people will begin a month or two later.
Japan is therefore behind every other developed country in the world in responding to the pandemic, trailing poorer, less developed countries such as Argentina, Belarus, and others. Despite Japan’s wealth and close partnership with the US, which you would think would offer some advantages, it is on roughly the same schedule as Cuba and Venezuela, whose efforts have been hurt by American and European sanctions.
Japan’s public policy is as geriatric as its population.
Yet, it is right next door to Russia, which has the safest and cheapest vaccine on the market – and also one of the most effective – 91.4% after 21 days and 95% after 42 days—almost identical to the much-touted, much-riskier Pfizer vaccine. Russia is more than willing to help.
China is also right next door, too. As a COVAX partner, it has offered assistance to any country needing it, too. In addition, it has vaccinated about a million healthcare workers and “frontline” personal, on schedule to vaccinate 50 million people before Tokyo even begins. That said, the main Chinese vaccine is not as effective as Sputnik V, with an efficacy just over 80%.
The Japanese are oblivious. The country might as well be Zambia, except that Zambia is handling the pandemic rather better.
The virus has been spreading throughout the Japanese archipelago and entrenching itself with medical facilities that are close to the breaking point. The Prime Minister Suga now says he was “surprised” by the crisis—and blames the medical community, whose warnings he had repeatedly ignored.
After a week of cogitation and pressure from prefectural governors, Suga finally declared a “state of emergency”, asking bars, restaurants and coffeeshops to close an hour earlier. All measures were voluntary.
Vaccinations are set for late February—for key medical and, of course, governmental officials – in other words, in early April. Vaccination of “high risk” people will begin a month or two later. The Japan’s wealthy are reportedly buying Chinese vaccines on the black market.
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How bad is the situation? No one really knows.
The Japanese government’s statistics are head-in-the-sand propaganda. On January 6, they quoted 1500 positives in Tokyo—out of a sample of perhaps 5000, in a city of over 15 million. The actual number therefore could be anywhere from 100,000 to one million.
Part of the blame must go to the government’s ill-advised domestic “Go To” tourism campaign which resulted in the spread of the virus to even remote areas of the archipelago. Quarantine standards for travelers or the infected are lax resulting in the spread of mutated versions of the virus from abroad.
Epidemiologically, expect a fourfold increase in infections by March when vaccinations start – and more right after that: since vaccines are not fully effective for 6 weeks but encourage a false sense of security, a phenomenon already evident in other countries, and since full scale vaccination is not possible until the summer.
How many people are dying?
Excess mortality rates are hard to determine but consistent when they should be lower – since flu’ rates for the 2020-21 season have been remarkably low—just 0.5% or previous years – vehicular accidents are down, and alcoholic consumption has dropped.
The Russian Solution?
As mentioned, Russia has indicated its willingness to supply vaccines to anyone, anywhere. Not just the vaccines but the technology to produce them as in the case of India and South Korea.
As with the Abe administration, the Suga government’s policy is: “Virus? What virus?”
That’s the Japanese “System”. Bureaucracy is slow. No single individual wants to take responsibility for tough decisions –in fact, for any decision at all – so there has to be consensus and compromise, which dilutes the effectiveness of even the most rational measures. In the end, bureaucrats and government officials fall back on the status quo policies. Since the Japanese public is among the most compliant in the world – with not much to choose from among political parties in Japan, the government need not fear direct action. Unlike Russia and China, Japan has never had a revolution.
The Japanese have opted for three vaccines—AstraZeneca and the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna. AstraZeneca adopts a strategy similar to Sputnik V but does not benefit from the Russian’s thirty years of experience with the vaccines’ delivery system—hence a lower efficacy rate and delayed registration—resulting in the company’s collaboration with Russia.
Pfizer and Moderna’s mRNA technology has never been used on vaccines before—and while short term side effects seem minimal, nothing can be said with any certainty about long-term effects. In addition mRNA vaccines require very advanced “cold chain technology”, which makes them unsuitable for poorer countries or rural settings and can lead to problems even in advanced medical systems. These vaccines are also much more expensive -as much as 10 times more than AstraZeneca -and four or five times more than Sputnik V – despite government subsidies and tax payer support.
So, why have the Japanese opted for Pfizer over Sputnik V? Or any other vaccine. Is it really just head-in-the-sand denial? Not exactly…
First—technology transfer—Japanese Pharma wants mRNA technology. Not for vaccines, but for drug production, cancer detection, and stem cell research.
Second, buy American. This is an American multinational. And fallback Japanese policy is always to buy American, even when there are cheaper and more effective substitutes.
Third, and most important, Japan is still an American vassal state, and while the Japanese public has a far more positive view of Russia than Americans do, with less Russophobic indoctrination by the popular press, Japan must officially hew to the American line, which is, “nothing good can come out of Russia”, as “the country had made no progress since the fall of the USSR.”
The American media dutifully and consistently maintains the line that Sputnik V is not properly tested, that its safety has not been verified, and that its high rate of efficacy is just government propaganda.
None of this is true. No vaccine can be judged to be completely safe without a decade of use. But Sputnik V’s platform has been tested for thirty years—unlike Pfizer, Modern, or even the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Living in Japan, I would gladly take a trip to Vladivostok for a jab. Thank God, there’s a ferry. Help me, Vladimir!
MORE ON THE TOPIC:
- Japanese Foreign Policy In The Biden Era: Bow And Smile
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- Russian Soft Power In Action: Sputnik V Spread In Latin America