Japan PM Suga wants to complete Covid-19 vaccinations by November

A medical worker filling a syringe with a dose of the Covid-19 vaccine at a mass vaccination centre in Tokyo on June 9, 2021.
A medical worker filling a syringe with a dose of the Covid-19 vaccine at a mass vaccination centre in Tokyo on June 9, 2021.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

TOKYO (BLOOMBERG) - Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said he wants to finish inoculating everyone in the country who's willing to get a Covid-19 vaccine by October or November, citing progress made in the vaccination drive so far.

Mr Suga revealed his target for the first time during a parliamentary debate in Tokyo on Wednesday (June 9). He said recent numbers show the nation has been vaccinating at around his goal of 1 million doses per day, following a recent increase in pace.

The government's vaccine czar Taro Kono had previously said the country was looking to finish the vaccine roll-out by February 2022.

Mr Suga, who's been prime minister for less than nine months after a long stretch as right-hand man to predecessor Shinzo Abe, has staked his future on getting Covid-19 under control. Japan's House of Representatives, the more powerful of the two houses of parliament, is set to go to the polls this year, and Mr Suga is also up for re-election as leader of his party at the end of September.

When asked on Wednesday about the possible timing of the election, the Japanese PM refrained from hinting at a date and said virus policy is his top priority.

Japan administered about 639,000 doses of vaccines from Pfizer or Moderna nationwide on Tuesday, according to data released Wednesday. Mr Suga said the number had exceeded his target of one million on Tuesday, likely referring to the fact that more than a million doses were newly added to tallies that day, although some of these were administered on earlier days.

Japan has given nearly 20 million first and second doses of the vaccines to date. After a slow start, the pace of inoculations has quickened since May, with about 11 per cent of the population receiving at least one dose.

Tokyo and other major urban areas are still under a state of emergency to control the spread of the virus. The declaration is set to run to June 20, though it could be further extended. Daily new cases in the capital have gradually declined since the emergency was lengthened last month, and the decline in cases has been steeper in former hotspots such as Osaka.

After warning Americans in May not to visit the country, the US State Department eased its advisory for Japan on Tuesday, along with those for dozens of other countries.

Mr Suga's Cabinet approval rating has taken a battering in local polls in recent months, with respondents citing their disappointment in the government's coronavirus response. The Tokyo Olympics, set to begin in late July after a year-long delay, have long been unpopular in polls, though opposition has begun to weaken as the vaccination drive gains speed and the first athletes arrive in the country.