The cause behind the weakening of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in Japan

Japan used to face great pressure when it had to go through 5 waves of COVID-19 outbreaks, but in recent weeks, Japan has recorded a decrease in the number of new infections to a record low level in more than a year. This makes many experts optimistic, that perhaps the worst thing called the SARS-CoV-2 virus is no longer a big concern for this Asian economy.

Effective vaccination campaign

On October 11, Tokyo recorded only 49 new cases of COVID-19 – the lowest number since late June last year, when the country suffered a super-contagious wave of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. In addition, Japan has not recorded any deaths from COVID-19 since November 7.

The cause behind the weakening of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in Japan - Photo 1.

On October 11, Tokyo recorded only 49 new cases of COVID-19 – the lowest number since the end of June last year (Source: Reuters)

This fact surprised many medical experts, because just in August, after the closing of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Japan was deeply hurt by a new wave of outbreaks. On August 13, the host city recorded a record 5,773 new COVID-19 cases, while nationally, the number of new cases surpassed 25,000.

The Japan Times quoted some experts as saying that Japan’s unexpected change came from the high rate of vaccine coverage. Currently, the country has fully vaccinated more than 75% of the population out of a total of nearly 126 million people. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida also recently confirmed that the government will launch a booster vaccine in December, starting with health workers and the elderly.

Although the implementation is slower than the countries in the G7 group, but with the progress of the vaccination program, Japan has surpassed Canada to become the country with the highest fully vaccinated rate. According to Professor Kentaro Iwata of Kobe University, “This COVID-19 vaccination program has been a great success. I have never seen such a realistic campaign in the history of national vaccination.”

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Japan has surpassed Canada to become the country with the highest vaccination rate in the G7 group (Source: Reuters)

According to The Guardian, one of the factors that helped Japan succeed in its vaccination program was a media campaign to change people’s attitudes towards vaccines. Before that, less than 30% of Japanese believed that the COVID-19 vaccine was safe. The main cause stems from the negative information about the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine since the 1990s and most recently the HPV vaccine.

The habit of wearing a mask is ingrained in the subconscious

Of course, vaccines are not the only factor helping Japan overcome the crisis. According to Mike Toole, an expert at the Burnet Institute for medical research, “Japan’s success cannot be explained by vaccination alone”. Because with about 25% of the population not yet vaccinated, the ability of the virus to spread is still relatively large.

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Currently, Japan has fully vaccinated more than 75% of its population out of a total of nearly 126 million people (Source: Reuters)

Another factor that helps the number of new COVID-19 cases in Japan drop sharply is the people’s habit of wearing masks. While many countries, including the United States, have lifted the requirement to wear masks in enclosed spaces, most Japanese still “chill out” at the thought of taking the risk of not covering their faces.

Action gradually became a habit and ingrained in the subconscious of the Japanese people after many periods of isolation to prevent and control the epidemic. Even the country’s authorities even put a mask on a 57-meter-tall Bodhisattva statue at Houkokuji Aizu Betsuin Temple, Fukushima Prefecture to pray for an early end to the COVID-19 pandemic. The giant mask, designed with pink mesh fabric, is 4.1 meters wide, 5.3 meters long, weighs 35 kilograms and is cleverly placed to cover the mouth and nose of the statue.

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The factor that helps the number of new COVID-19 cases in Japan drop sharply is the people’s habit of wearing masks (Source: Reuters)

Recently, the British Medical Journal also published the results of a study by a group of experts at universities to evaluate the effectiveness of public health measures in Asia, Europe, the US, South America, and China. East, Africa and Australia. Through the analysis, the team of experts found that the incidence of COVID-19 decreased by 53% among people wearing masks. This shows more clearly than ever the motivation for Japan to do miracles in its efforts to contain the number of new cases. Besides, factors such as cool weather and effective testing system also work well.

The “self-destruct” mechanism of the SARS-CoV-2 virus

Earlier, Mr. Kenji Shibuya, former director of the Institute of Population Health at King’s College London, said that the positive change in the epidemic situation in Japan could be attributed to “some characteristics of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.” “. This comment was recently mentioned again in the Japan Times, that it is the genetic changes of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that have helped Japan to successfully “cool down” the “hot” outbreak points.

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Changes in the genes of the SARS-CoV-2 virus have helped Japan successfully “cool down” the “hot” outbreak points (Source: Reuters)

According to the hypothesis of Mr. Ituro Inoue, a professor at the National Institute of Genetics of Japan, the Delta mutant in this country had too many mutations for a non-structural protein called nsp14 (a protein with the function of fixing genetic errors in genes. transmission). As a result, the virus gradually loses the function of self-correcting genes and forms a “self-destruct” mechanism.

Studies also show that, compared with Europe and Africa, more and more Asians possess a defense enzyme called APOBEC3A that is able to fight RNA viruses, including SARS-CoV. -2. Therefore, the National Institute of Genetics and Niigata University have begun to study how APOBEC3A affects nsp14 as well as its ability to inhibit the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

The team analyzed genetic data of the Alpha and Delta variants from patient samples between June and October in Japan. Initially, they thought that the Delta variant, with its ability to cause severe symptoms in unvaccinated people, would be much more genetically diverse than the normal strains. However, the actual results are quite the opposite.

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More and more people in Asia possess a defense enzyme called APOBEC3A that has the ability to fight RNA viruses, including SARS-CoV-2 virus (Source: The World Economic Forum)

When the researchers continued to examine nsp14, they discovered that the majority of nsp14 samples in Japan had undergone multiple mutations in the gene at sites named A394V. “We were really surprised by these findings,” said Professor Inoue. “The Delta mutation in Japan is very contagious, with a much faster rate than other strains. But when the genetic mutations occur consecutively, the virus will not be able to replicate itself and gradually form a self-made mechanism. destroy”.

Professor Inoue’s hypothesis partly explains the weakening of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in Japan. Meanwhile, some Asian countries with high vaccination rates, such as South Korea, are suffering from waves of infection. Europe is also continuously recording a record number of new cases and deaths per day from COVID-19. Besides the winter factor, which is a time when the virus is easy to spread, uneven vaccine coverage in Europe is believed to be one of the main reasons for new outbreaks.

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Many believe that a “normal” life is returning to the country of cherry blossoms after the Japanese government decided to lift some restrictions on November 19 (Source: Reuters).

Currently, the situation of COVID-19 epidemic in Japan is gradually becoming more optimistic. Many people believe that a “normal” life is returning to the land of cherry blossoms after the Japanese government decided to lift the limit on the number of people allowed to participate in sports and entertainment events. on a large scale on 11/19. Some restrictions on food and beverage businesses have also been relaxed.

“We will take all possible measures to protect people’s lives and health,” said Economic Reconstruction Minister Daishiro Yamagiwa, who is in charge of the Japanese government’s COVID-19 response. so that Japan can safely resume daily life.”

But, according to Shigeru Omi, the main medical adviser to the Japanese government, “the end of the state of emergency does not mean that we are 100% free”. “The authorities should send a clear message to the people, that we can only ease restrictions gradually,” he said. In addition, many warnings about the possibility that the number of new infections will increase again are still given by medical experts when the weather gradually becomes colder, and people are comfortable congregating in bars and houses. shop to enjoy the year-end party season.

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