Why does COVID-19 kill fewer people in Asia?

Possibly buried newspiece from last summer lays out some paths of inquiry

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of this site. This site does not give financial, investment or medical advice.

Many of our readers have no doubt come across my speculative pieces stating the (possibly crazy) proposition that COVID-19 was bioengineered specifically not to afflict Oriental Asiatic people, such as those from China, Japan, North and South Korea and the like. In other words, COVID-19 is possibly a bioweapon, released perhaps by accident, but deployed after the fact in a very practical and deliberate manner.

Naturally, such an assertion would welcome shrill screams of “crazy racist!” from American liberals. It is probably for this reason that what you are about to read may not have been seen before in the efforts to bury such “crazy ideas.”

However, DW did publish a piece by Martin Fritz, a newswriter in Tokyo, Japan. We are very grateful to him for providing a very well reasoned investigative piece on this statistical phenomenon and we offer his entire piece here for your consideration. This piece was published on June 12, 2020.

As the US enters a third wave of COVID perpetuation and as Europe endures new lockdowns in a second wave, one of the things we have to consider is the endemic nature of the virus and its unusual (and I still point at the strong possibility of a bioengineered) endurance. While political figures in the US desperately spin this against President Trump, the reality is that the American president’s present posture – to deal with the virus through the use of therapeutics pending the public release of vaccines – is the most realistic and pragmatic path forward. Nothing else will work, because we simply cannot make everything stop and hold it in place in hopes that this will make the virus disappear. That is fantasy. So, onto something a bit more realistic, and I think this piece by Martin Fritz will actually lend itself to proving the practicality of our own policies concerning the virus.

Why does coronavirus kill fewer people in East Asia?

People in East Asia seem to be less likely than those in many other parts of the world to die of the coronavirus. But the explanations that have been put forward do not all hold water, as Martin Fritz reports from Tokyo.

Higher “mindo” is Japanese’s Finance Minister Taro Aso’s explanation for why Japan has witnessed relatively few deaths from COVID-19. This term describes “cultural standards” and is often used in reference to nationalism and ethnic superiority. The TV station TBS, in its turn, said that because Japanese had fewer plosives than many other languages, fewer virus-laden droplets were transmitted by air when people spoke. Many Japanese have also attributed the low number of cases to Japan’s culture of eating traditional and healthy food.

However, such theories do not explain why the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths has been relatively low not only in Japan but also in much of the rest of Asia. China has reported three deaths per million inhabitants, South Korea and Indonesia five, Pakistan six and Japan seven. Vietnam, Cambodia and Mongolia have reported not any confirmed COVID-19 deaths. Germany, on the other hand, has had 100 deaths per million inhabitants, the US almost 300 and Britain, Italy and Spain more than 500.

Differences in how numbers are counted and in the amount of testing do not explain these large divergences. In South Korea, there was mass testing of the population on parking lots, while in Japan, only people who had had a fever for four days and the people they were in contact with were tested.

Workers in face masks walking outside in Tokyo (Reuters/I. Kato)Coronavirus testing rates were lower in Japan than in other countries

The fact that people do not shake hands or kiss to greet each other in much of Asia cannot really explain them, either, considering that COVID-19 seems to be transmitted mainly by air and not contact.  So researchers are looking at other reasons that could explain the wide differences in the number of cases and deaths between East Asia and much of the rest of the world.

Did mutation make COVID-19 more contagious?

Scientists at Japan’s National Institute of Infectious Diseases have discovered that the genetic makeup of SARS-CoV-2 changed as it spread from region to region. They found that the first cases in Japan and on the cruise ship Diamond Princess that was docked in the port of Yokohama clearly originated in Wuhan, but that the second outbreak in April could be traced back to people who had entered Japan from Europe. These findings were corroborated by research being conducted at Cambridge University in Britain. A team of researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory in the US postulated that the virus might have become more contagious in Europe and America through a mutation.

Tatsuhiko Kodama, a member of the Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology (RCAST) at the University of Tokyo, has based some of his research on findings from La Jolla Institute for Immunology in California. According to these, many people in East Asia seem to have antibodies that protect them from the novel coronavirus. Kodama attributed this to the many previous flu viruses and coronaviruses that originated in southern China and caused people in the region to catch colds and related illnesses.

“They have white blood cells that can fight off related viruses such as SARS-CoV-2,” Kodama says, adding that this does not make them fully immune but enables their bodies to cope with a certain amount of a similar type of virus. The Nobel laureate and immunologist Tasuku Honjo also argues that there is a great difference between Asians and others when it comes to the genes that control the immune system’s response to viruses.

Kodama, however, warns that people in East Asia were not necessarily completely safe from all viruses. He says if a virus mutated, it could be just as dangerous for people there as in Europe.

Mandatory TB vaccinations

Another theory that is popular in Japan is that people are better protected than elsewhere because there is a policy of mandatory vaccination against tuberculosis, making their immune systems stronger against viruses in general.

People wearing face masks at a shopping mall in Kobe, Japan (picture-alliance/Kyodo)However, in France, where the rate of vaccination is just as high as in Japan, the COVID-19 mortality rates have been much higher, so this argument does not hold.

With higher “cultural standards,” Aso probably meant not only the fact that in Japan people are more willing to wear protective masks but also that there is a generally higher level of health among the population. According to the World Health Organization, only 4% of Japanese citizens and 5% of South Koreans are obese. In Western Europe, this figure jumps to 20% and in the US it is over 36%.

However, there is currently no evidence of any direct link between obesity and COVID-19 deaths.

DW’s correspondent Martin Fritz has lived in Japan for over 20 years. He recently published “Abc 4 Japan: Ein Kulturguide” with Stämpfli Verlag.


The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of this site. This site does not give financial, investment or medical advice.

What do you think?

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Ave Milagrosa
Ave Milagrosa
November 1, 2020

As many many people have died of Covid-19 in Asia as have died in Europe: 0.
Nobody has been shown to have died of Sars CoV-2, because the putative virus has never been truly isolated, as implicitly admitted by the CDC. So this question about Asia vs Europe is largely meaningless. All the lower mortality rates might indicate is that general health in Asia better overall (or respiratory health in particular, along with vitamin D status).

Sue Rarick
November 1, 2020

One reason may be the CARE bonus system that rewards listing a death as Covid related in the US anyway. Plus the new wave is —- wait for it —– a new flu season — like we always have had. I probably would have had covid19 if I wasn’t part of the VA system when I was taken to a local butcher shop hospital. No CARE bonus so I just had walking pneumonia was given a aspirin and sent home. My VA PC doc overnighted meds right after we video conferenced. BTW – compared to the regular hospitals the VA… Read more »

Max Factor
Max Factor
November 1, 2020

It’s their thicker skin less prone to facial wrinkles. Covid has a harder time spotting the elderly.

Archy Medes
Archy Medes
Reply to  Max Factor
November 2, 2020

Surely you jest. I’d think it would be because it’s more difficult for the virus to penetrate such thick skin.

Culture of Outrage
Culture of Outrage
Reply to  Archy Medes
November 19, 2020

Boner killer

November 2, 2020

OK, a few basic truths:
1/ NO-ONE has died of Sars-Cov-2 exclusively. If they have, please provide proof.
2/ Asian countries don’t report false ‘Covid deaths’.
3/ Asisn countries don’t subscribe to the ‘scam-demic’.

Bob Villa
Bob Villa
Reply to  BobValdez
November 2, 2020

OK, I’m convinced. Your enthusiasm has overwhelmed me.

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