The death toll in Japan fell for the first time in more than a decade, in stark contrast to the enormous mortality suffered by many countries during the pandemic and noting that the measures taken against the coronavirus in the country had positive effects in other areas as well.
The Ministry of Health announced this week that deaths in Japan had fallen by more than 9,300 in 2020, hitting the mark of around 1.4 million. The reduction – 0.7% from the previous year – represented a surprising turnaround for the country with the oldest population in the world.
When the coronavirus began to spread, early last year, many feared that the large number of elderly people in Japan would make the country particularly vulnerable to Covid-19. But the number of cases and deaths remained far lower than in the United States and Western Europe.
As of Tuesday (24), Japan had recorded just 7,600 deaths from the virus, and the average number of new cases was 1,200 in the previous seven days. At no time did the daily number of new cases exceed 8,000.
In contrast, the United States already has more than 500,000 deaths and 28 million cases of Covid-19. Deaths from other causes have also reportedly increased, possibly because people have avoided seeking medical assistance.
The life expectancy of Americans fell by a year in the first six months of 2020, the biggest drop since World War II.
The latest official data from Japan does not break down mortality by category, so it’s difficult to know for sure what caused the reduction in deaths.
But data from the start of the year suggests the drop in deaths is largely due to a sharp reduction in respiratory illnesses, likely due to the near-universal adoption of masks and social distancing in the country.
Masks were already commonly seen in Japan, but over the past 12 months they have become mandatory as a measure to combat the virus.
Other measures have also been widely adopted in the country to prevent the transmission of the virus, including freezing alcohol at the entrance to virtually all commercial spaces and workplaces, in addition to widespread compliance with the recommendations of the government to avoid confined spaces, crowded places. and physical proximity to other people.
Another factor, no matter how small, was the decline in road accidents – with the government declaring a state of emergency twice, fewer people left behind. Deaths from road accidents fell nearly 12% in 2020 to 2,839, according to data from the National Police Agency. This is the lowest number since the agency began recording data in 1948.
Japan is not the only country to register the secondary benefits of the coronavirus control measures. In China, the number of deaths fell slightly in the first three months of 2020, except in Wuhan, the epicenter of the virus, according to a study by the University of Oxford and the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
If the decline in deaths in Japan was a welcome fact, there is some negative evidence. The country saw an increase of almost 4% in suicides in 2020, compared to the previous year. Among women, the growth was almost 15%.
Experts attributed the problem to strains associated with the pandemic, including the loss of jobs, growing isolation of people and the increased domestic burden borne by women.
Yet the Japanese population continued to decline, despite the drop in the total number of deaths. The population started to decline in 2007 due to the declining birth rate and the growing share of older people. In 2020, the country lost more than 511 thousand people, a slight acceleration from the previous year.
The number of births fell again last year, suggesting that the pandemic is likely to accelerate Japan’s depopulation process. According to government forecasts, the national population, today 126 million, will fall below 100 million by 2053 and below 88 million by 2065.