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Japan steps up pace of jabs as fourth wave hits

By WANG XU in Tokyo | China Daily | Updated: 2021-04-13 09:32
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An elderly woman gestures to express gratitude after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine in Itami, western Japan, on Monday. REUTERS

Japan stepped up its vaccination and restriction efforts on Monday to blunt a fourth wave of the contagion as it grapples with more infectious variants and a slow rollout of vaccines just 100 days ahead of the start of the Olympics.

On Monday, people aged 65 and above in Japan became the second group to be inoculated following healthcare workers.

According to a Health Ministry schedule, around 2,810 people in Tokyo are expected to get a shot from the first batch, using Pfizer's vaccine made in Europe, while most regions of some 120 sites across the country will only receive 1,000 doses or fewer.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said in parliament on Monday that he expected to secure some 100 million vaccine doses by the end of June, more than enough to give two doses to the elderly population of 36 million.

"We would like to deliver (the vaccines) to as many people as possible as soon as possible," he said.

The vaccinations are proceeding amid growing concern about a resurgence of infections. For the past week, an average of more than 3,000 new cases have been reported each day.

On Sunday, a hospital worker in Ishikawa Prefecture, central Japan, was confirmed as infected after receiving doses of the vaccine developed by Pfizer on March 13 and April 3.

Local authorities said the person has not shown any symptoms yet and took a test after coming into contact with an infected person.

"In general, it takes time before antibodies are produced following vaccination," a prefectural government official said.

So far, around 1.1 million people in Japan, mostly frontline healthcare workers, have received at least one dose of the Pfizer vaccine's two-shot regimen.

More say for prefectures

Taro Kono, the minister in charge of vaccines, has defended the pace, saying local governments wanted time to prepare. "After tomorrow, we will inform the prefectures how much we can distribute, and they will decide how much to allocate to each municipality," Kono said on national broadcaster NHK on Sunday.

On Monday, Tokyo began a monthlong period of quasi-emergency measures to combat surging COVID-19 numbers, less than a month after the capital and host of the Summer Olympics lifted a broader state of emergency.

After the restrictions, Tokyo, Kyoto and Okinawa will join Osaka, Hyogo and Miyagi prefectures under targeted lockdown measures where restaurants and bars in densely populated areas were asked to close by 8 pm.

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