By Associated Press
To speed up inoculations, former Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who left office recently, expanded the number of health workers legally eligible to give shots, opened large-scale vaccination centers and promoted workplace vaccinations beginning in late June.
Kyoto University professor Hiroshi Nishiura told a recent government advisory board meeting that he estimates vaccinations helped some 650,000 people avoid infection and saved more than 7,200 lives between March and September.
Many experts initially blamed younger people, seen drinking on the streets and in parks when the bars were closed, for spreading the virus, but said data showed many in their 40s and 50s also frequented nightlife districts. Most serious cases and deaths were among unvaccinated people in their 50s or younger.
Takaji Wakita, director of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, told reporters recently he is worried people have already resumed partying in nightlife districts, noting that the slowing of infections may have already hit bottom.
“Looking ahead, it is important to further push down the caseloads in case of a future resurgence of infections,” Wakita said Thursday.
On Friday, new Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said a preparedness plan to be compiled by early November would include tougher limits on activities and require hospitals to provide more beds and staff for COVID-19 treatment in case infections soar in a “worst-case scenario.”
He did not elaborate on details.
Many people are cautious about letting down their guard, regardless of the numbers.
Mask-wearing “has become so normal,” said university student Mizuki Kawano. “I’m still worried about the virus,” she said.
“I don’t want to get close to those who don’t wear masks,” said her friend, Alice Kawaguchi.
Public health experts want a comprehensive investigation into why infections have dropped off.
An analysis of GPS data showed that people’s movements in major downtown entertainment districts fell during the most recent, third state of emergency, which ended Sept. 30.
“I believe the decrease of people visiting entertainment districts, along with the vaccination progress, has contributed to the decline of infections,” said Atsushi Nishida, the director of the Research Center for Social Science & Medicine Sciences at the Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Medical Science.
But people headed back to entertainment districts as soon as the recent emergency ended, he said, and that may “affect the infection situation in coming weeks.”