ito6_Takashi AoyamaGetty Images_japancovid Takashi Aoyama/Getty Images

Japan's Delta Desperation

When he succeeded Shinzo Abe last year, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga was hoping to parlay a general election victory into his own re-election as the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party. But despite a generally successful Olympic Games, a pandemic surge and his own inaction have derailed Suga's plan.

TOKYO – With the spread of the Delta variant, new COVID-19 infections are rising around the world, and much more so in regions and countries with low vaccination rates. Japan is no exception. Only around 40% of its population is fully vaccinated – compared to vaccination rates of 50-65% in the other G7 countries – and its infection rate has increased sharply over the past two months. As of August 24, its seven-day rolling average of daily confirmed cases was 23,036, up from 3,000 only one month earlier.

Before the current surge, the highest seven-day average was around 6,500, reached in January and again in May of this year. During those earlier surges, the Japanese government’s declaration of emergency and “requests” that people not go out had some effect. But this time, the requests have been largely ignored.

The rising infection rate is bad news for a government that must soon face a general election. But there are two bright spots. First, the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games unfolded this summer without any major incidents, and with Japanese athletes winning 27 gold medals (the third-highest count after the United States and China). A majority of Japanese now feel that it was good to have hosted the Games – a stark shift from pre-event polls.

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