Japan aims to use Pfizer's oral Covid-19 drugs nationwide next month: PM

Japan is betting heavily on oral treatments to keep serious infections and deaths at bay. PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (REUTERS) - Japan will gear up efforts to deal with a possible surge in Omicron coronavirus cases and aim to deliver oral treatment using Pfizer's drugs nationwide next month, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Tuesday (Jan 4).

Mr Kishida also said the government will decide next week whether to extend border controls, which he described as having successfully prevented infection numbers from spiking.

"We'll prepare to shift the focus of Japan's Omicron response to domestic measures to guard against the worst-case scenario of a possible spike in community transmissions," Mr Kishida told a news conference.

Aside from antiviral pills developed by Merck & Co already delivered nationwide, the government will aim to roll out "at the earliest date possible in February" Pfizer's oral treatment drugs in Japan, he said.

As more oral drugs become available, Japan will allow more patients to receive treatment at home to avoid a resurgence in infections from triggering a shortage of hospital beds, he said.

Japan is betting heavily on oral treatments to keep serious infections and deaths at bay should a feared sixth wave of the pandemic emerge.

The government agreed in November to pay Merck and its partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics about US$1.2 billion (S$1.6 billion) for 1.6 million courses of their drug molnupiravir.

"If a spike in infections lead to a shortage of hospital beds, we must flexibly consider ramping up curbs on activity," Mr Kishida said.

He also said he will forgo overseas visits before the start of Japan's Parliament session on Jan 17 to focus on laying out anti-pandemic measures.

Domestic media have reported that Mr Kishida was aiming to visit Australia and the United States to meet his counterparts before Parliament convenes.

Japan last month confirmed the first known case of Omicron infections that could not be traced back to overseas travellers.

Community transmissions of the variant have now been found in Tokyo as well as the western Japan cities of Osaka and Kyoto.

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