Skip to content
Subscriber Only
Business
Prognosis

When the Virus Hit, Japan Already Had an Army of Contact Tracers

  • Network of health centers key to unorthodox virus response
  • 1930s playbook to fight tuberculosis used to trace virus cases
Public health nurses conduct contact tracing at the Ota Ward health center in Tokyo on April 27.
Public health nurses conduct contact tracing at the Ota Ward health center in Tokyo on April 27.Photographer: Kaname Yoneyama/The Yomiuri Shimbun via AP Photo
Updated on

The virus might have been new, but for Yuko Koizumi the work was still the same.

In Kawasaki, a city just south of Tokyo, nearly 300 people had tested positive for the coronavirus by early June. But Koizumi was unperturbed. As head of infectious disease response for the city’s network of seven public health centers, she was able to draw on a familiar strategy used in past pandemics and seasonal outbreaks: trace infection routes via close contacts, check on recuperating patients, and arrange treatment where needed.