Why Japan succeeded and then failed in the pandemic

Why Japan succeeded and then failed in the pandemic

Margarita Estévez-Abe - Associate Professor of Political Science, Syracuse University

Friday, April 30, 2021 - 12:00pm to 1:30pm
via Zoom See map

Japan has fared very well in averting a major COVID-19 crisis.  Death tolls have been minimal compared to many European countries and the United States. This led Japanese policy makers to congratulate themselves on the success of the Japanese model although no one could explain what it was. Today, however, Japan faces the fourth—likely to be the most deadly—wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This presentation focuses on the most vulnerable population—the frail elderly in long-term care facilities—to explain Japan’s initial success and its subsequent failure. Japan got very lucky in that the routine protocols implemented in its long-term-care institutions had successfully protected frail elderly residents in the absence of any top-down political decisions.  Ironically, Japan’s initial success has led its leaders to focus on the economic recovery rather than expanding prevention measures and hospital capacities.

Japan offers a cautionary tale of a country whose initial success led to its leaders’ overconfidence and unwillingness to learn from other countries’ experiences.

Margarita Estévez-Abe is associate professor of political science at Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University.  She taught at Harvard University before joining Syracuse and served as the first chair of Public Policy at Collegio Carlo Alberto in Turin, Italy. Her research explores the intersection of welfare states, electoral systems and the models of capitalism.  She’s the author of the award-winning book on Welfare Capitalism in Postwar Japan (Cambridge University Press), the editor of Outsourcing of Domestic and Care Work (Special Issue, Social Politics) and Beyond Familialism (Special Issue, Journal of European Social Policy).  She is currently writing a book on politics of demographic aging in Germany, Italy and Japan. During the past year, she has also written on the pandemic and long-term care facilities in Japan and beyond.


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Sponsored by The Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership