Japan’s Economy Surges, but Covid-19 Looms


Still, the past two quarters of growth did not make up for the damage wreaked by the pandemic. The economy ended down 4.8 percent for the year, the first annual contraction since 2009, when the country was suffering from the fallout of the global financial crisis.

While people in Japan are not facing the same level of short-term economic peril as those in the United States, growth is expected to contract again in the first three months of this year.

After a steep rise in daily infection counts, Japan declared a second, albeit more limited, state of emergency at the end of December. Initially announced for one month, the edict was extended through early March partly in response to the appearance of new, more contagious variants of the coronavirus.

“Because of the emergency declaration, consumer spending, particularly on services, is going to fall” in the first three months of the year, said Akane Yamaguchi, an economist at the Daiwa Institute of Research.

But, she said, the damage will not be nearly as severe as last spring, when lockdowns destroyed demand for exports and Japan’s national emergency extended across the whole country.

Further complicating the economic picture for 2021, Japan has been slow to start vaccinations.

On Sunday, the Pfizer shot became the first to receive approval from Japanese regulators. Frontline health care workers are expected to receive their first doses this week, but it will be months before the public is eligible.

The pandemic’s effects have been much less severe in Japan than in the West. Total deaths are under 7,000, and daily infection levels peaked in early January at around 8,000. But a robust vaccination program could give more people the confidence to return to shops and restaurants, said Mr. Nagahama, of Dai-Ichi Life Research.


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