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EU vaccine curbs may delay Japan’s inoculation drive

Reuters Tokyo | Updated on February 02, 2021

Japan is set to begin its vaccination campaign this month; any delay could sow doubts on the govt’s aim to secure enough doses for everyone before the Tokyo Olympics this summer

European Union curbs on exports of novel coronavirus vaccines could delay Japan’s inoculation drive, the minister in charge of the campaign said on Tuesday, while the government is expected to extend a state of emergency in a bid to rein in the epidemic.

Japan is set to begin its vaccination campaign this month, later than most major economies, and any delay could sow doubts about a government’s aim to secure enough doses for everyone before the Tokyo Olympics this summer.

“The EU has enacted this export transparency mechanism, and it is affecting Japan’s supply schedule,” Taro Kono, the minister in charge of the vaccine effort, told reporters.

Also read: Global Covid-19 cases surpass 100 mn as nations tackle vaccine shortages

Japan is relying on foreign vaccine manufacturers and Kono warned last week that growing nationalism over the shots could lead to retaliation and disruptions to global supplies.

Japan has secured rights to more than 500 million vaccine doses from several Western developers, more than enough for its 126 million population.

But the dependence on overseas makers and a requirement that the vaccines go through domestic trials have delayed its campaign.

State broadcaster NHK reported on Tuesday that approval for the Pfizer Inc vaccine could come on February 12.

Japan has reported a total of 391,618 coronavirus infections, including 5,832 deaths, and persistent flare-ups in infections have undermined public support for the delayed 2020 Summer Olympics, scheduled for July-August.

Nevertheless, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and his government are determined to host the Games.

Also read: Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine rarely causes side effects: CDC report

Infections have trended down in recent days but the government has to be cautious, a top official said.

“We’ll respond with a sense of urgency based on the medical situation and virus spread,” Katsunobu Kato, chief cabinet secretary, told reporters.

“The number of new coronavirus cases is falling, but caution is still needed,” Kato said, adding that hospitals remained full and the death rate had not fallen.

Suga is due to make a decision on any emergency extension after a meeting of an expert panel later in the day.

The government last month imposed a one-month state of emergency for 11 areas, including Tokyo and neighbouring prefectures as well as the western city of Osaka, to combat the country’s third and most lethal coronavirus wave.

But the emergency lacks teeth, with authorities largely limited to requesting compliance, though that may change this week with the passage of a revision to the coronavirus special measures law that will allow authorities to levy fines on people who break the law.

Support for Suga’s government has been battered by disapproval of his handling of the pandemic, a situation not helped when several ruling coalition lawmakers admitted to flouting rules by visiting hostess clubs and bars late at night.

One resigned his seat on Monday and three others left Suga’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

Published on February 02, 2021

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