Overview of the characteristics of and responses to the three waves of COVID-19 in Japan during 2020-2021

Biosci Trends. 2021 Mar 15;15(1):1-8. doi: 10.5582/bst.2021.01019. Epub 2021 Jan 29.


The first case of COVID-19 in Japan was reported on 16 January 2020. The total number of the infected has reached 313,844 and the number of deaths has reached 4,379 as of 16 January 2021. This article reviews the characteristics of and responses to the three waves of COVID-19 in Japan during 2020-2021 in order to provide a reference for the next step in epidemic prevention and control. The Japanese Government declared a state of emergency on 7 April 2020, which suppressed the increase in the number of the infected by curtailing economic activity. The first wave peaked at 701 new cases a day and it decreased to 21 new cases on May 25 when the state of emergency was lifted. However, the number of the infected increased again due to the resumption of economic activity, with a peak of 1,762 new cases a day during the second wave. Although the situation was worse than that during the first wave, the government succeeded in limiting the increase without declaring a state of emergency again, and that may be attributed to a decrease in crowd activities and an increase in the number of inspections. During the third wave, the number of the infected continued to exceed the peak during previous waves for two months. Major factors for this rise include the government's implementation of further policies to encourage certain activities, relaxed immigration restrictions, and people not reducing their level of activity. An even more serious problem is the bed usage for patients with COVID-19; bed usage exceeds 50% not only in major cities but also in various areas. On 7 January 2021, 5,953 new cases were reported a day; this greatly exceeded the previous peak, and the state of emergency was declared again. Although Japan has been preparing its medical system since the first wave, maintaining that system has imposed a large economic burden on medical facilities, hence stronger measures and additional support are urgently needed to combat COVID-19 in the coming few months.

Keywords: COVID-19; Japan; epidemic; pandemic; wave.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bed Occupancy / statistics & numerical data
  • COVID-19*
  • Disease Outbreaks / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Japan / epidemiology