Japan Parliament passes Bill to provide free Covid-19 vaccinations

Japan has seen a total death toll of just over 2,000 people from the virus since the beginning of the pandemic.
Japan has seen a total death toll of just over 2,000 people from the virus since the beginning of the pandemic.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

TOKYO (BLOOMBERG) - Japan's Parliament passed a Bill to provide coronavirus vaccinations free of charge with the central government covering the cost, offering a key plan to stem the virus as the country struggles with its worst-yet wave of infections.

Wednesday's (Dec 2) passage in the upper house of Parliament following approval in the more powerful lower house will bring the law into effect. It also makes local governments responsible for administering the immunisations, according to the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare.

The move comes as a new wave of virus infections has prompted the worst-hit areas to call on bars and restaurants to close early, and has forced Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to partially suspend a travel incentive programme intended to shore up suffering regional economies.

While the death toll in Japan is by far the lowest in any Group of Seven advanced nation, the country suffered its worst economic downturn on record in the April-June quarter.

Mr Suga has vowed to secure enough doses of vaccine for the "people of the country" by the first half of next year and it remains unclear to what extent foreign residents will be eligible for free vaccinations.

Not all Japanese nationals may be enthusiastic about immunisation. An Ipsos survey conducted in October showed that 69 per cent of Japanese respondents were willing to get a vaccine if available, compared with the global average of 73 per cent.

Wednesday's Bill also permits the government to compensate private companies for any losses caused by health problems stemming from the vaccinations.

Japan has contracted with Moderna Inc to provide vaccines, and has basic agreements with Astrazeneca Plc and Pfizer Inc, according to the health ministry.

Japan has seen a total death toll of just over 2,000 people from the virus since the beginning of the pandemic, compared with approximately 1,500 deaths per day in the US.