Japan plans to extend COVID-19 state of emergency beyond May 31 – Nationwide
The Japanese government plans to extend the COVID-19 state of emergency covering Tokyo, Osaka and other areas beyond the current deadline of May 31, sources familiar with the matter said, as infections have yet to significantly subside, leaving the medical system strained. One plan under discussion is for the nine prefectures to get a new deadline of June 20, the same as Okinawa, which was put under the emergency declaration Sunday, the sources said. Another is for it to expire on June 13. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is set to decide on the length of the extension within the week after examining the latest infection and hospital occupancy data and consulting health experts. A senior official said the length could differ based on the situation in each prefecture.
Japan’s third state of emergency took effect in Tokyo, Osaka, Hyogo and Kyoto on April 25, later being extended from the initial end date of May 11 to May 31. The affected areas were expanded to Aichi and Fukuoka, and then again to Hokkaido, Okayama and Hiroshima. Of the nine prefectures, Osaka and Hyogo are already planning to request that the government extend the state of emergency, prefectural officials said.
Osaka will finalise the plan in a meeting based on the current state of the pandemic, taking into account the strain on the medical system. Hyogo will make a final decision later. Osaka confirmed 216 new daily coronavirus cases, down from 274 logged the previous day. Despite the decrease, the occupancy rate of hospital beds for COVID-19 patients in serious condition remained high at a little over 80 percent.
Hyogo reported 86 infections, the first time the number fell below 100 in a month and a half, though the seven-day rolling average stood at 183.4. The occupancy rate for hospital beds was also high at 77.4 percent. Hyogo Gov Toshizo Ido indicated it would be difficult to end the emergency on the current expiration date.
The developments in the two western prefectures came as state-run mass COVID-19 vaccination centres opened in Tokyo and Osaka to accelerate the country’s inoculation program, with just two months remaining before the Olympics.
Japan gives preliminary OK to Moderna, AstraZeneca vaccines – Nationwide
A Japanese health ministry drug safety panel gave preliminary approval to coronavirus vaccines developed by Moderna and AstraZeneca ahead of an expansion next week of the country’s slow-paced immunisation program before the Tokyo Olympics. The only COVID-19 vaccine currently approved for emergency use in Japan is developed by Pfizer Inc. Formal approval of the two additional vaccines is expected by a broader vaccine policy panel, officials said. Health Minister Norihisa Tamura said approval of the additional vaccines will help speed up inoculations. Japan has administered one or more vaccine doses to roughly 5 million people, or just 4% of the population.
As the government pushes to host the Olympics in about two months, accelerating vaccinations is key to warding off mounting public concern about the safety of the event. Recent polls have found that more than 80% of Japanese oppose hosting the Olympics this summer. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has pledged to finish vaccinating the country’s roughly 36 million elderly population by the end of July, when the games are to be held. However, a government survey of 1,741 municipalities released found around 15% will not be able to meet the deadline.
The government will open mass-vaccination sites in two of the country’s biggest metropolitan areas, Tokyo and Osaka, with the goal of administering vaccines to up to 15,000 elderly people a day. Moderna shots are to be used at the sites. Japan has secured around 364 million vaccine doses, including 50 million of the Moderna vaccine through a contract with Tokyo-based Takeda Pharmaceutical, 120 million from AstraZeneca, and 194 million from Pfizer. All three vaccines require two doses.
Unused COVID shots piling up in Japan amid slow rollout – Nationwide
Unused COVID-19 vaccines in Japan are set to reach tens of millions of doses, as the country is poised to approve two more shots in coming weeks and the pace of its inoculation campaign remains slow due to manpower and logistical bottlenecks. Japan imported 28 million doses of Pfizer Inc’s COVID-19 vaccine through late April, but has so far used only 15% of the stockpile, with the remaining 24 million doses sitting in freezers. Japan’s vaccine supply is set to increase sharply as regulators have just approved the shots developed by Moderna Inc and AstraZeneca Plc, national broadcaster NHK reported.
The first batch of the Moderna vaccine had already arrived and an estimated 30 million doses of the AstraZeneca shot are being prepared by its local domestic partners. Pfizer shipments are also due to accelerate to more than 35 million doses this month and next. But against all this supply — Japan has secured the largest amount of COVID-19 vaccines in Asia, as it gears up for the Olympics in the summer– just over 4 million doses have administered to health care workers and the elderly. It has inoculated only 2.2% of its population so far, the slowest among wealthy countries, and the government has an ambitious target of inoculating its 36 million elderly people by July. To achieve that goal, Japan would need to administer about 800,000 shots per day, according to a group of business leaders urging the government to speed up the campaign, more than double the pace of the best days so far.
Taro Kono, the minister in charge of vaccines, said that there were snags in the inoculation reservation system and that demand in large cities had outstripped capacity. Japan began its vaccination push in February, later than most major economies, and logistical hurdles, mainly manpower, has also slowed the pace of its campaign. About 2 million healthcare workers are still waiting for their first of the two-shot regimen, and that has led to some frustration in the medical community, said Kazuaki Jindai, a physician and researcher in Kanagawa Prefecture.