Japan approves more Covid-19 vaccines as state of emergency set to widen

Japan's hesitancy about using AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine comes amid concerns about blood clots. PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (REUTERS) - Japan is set to expand a state of emergency to cover the southern island of Okinawa on Friday (May 21), just as it approved two more coronavirus vaccines to speed up its lagging inoculation campaign.

The newly approved vaccines, from Moderna and AstraZeneca, will join the one co-developed by Pfizer and BioNTech in a vaccination drive that began in mid-February.

But AstraZeneca's vaccine would not be used for the time being, the company said. Earlier media reports said the government would hold off on their use due to concerns over blood clots and bleeding in some people.

"We are aware that our vaccine is not going to be used right away," a spokeswoman at AstraZeneca said. Japan has arranged to buy 120 million doses of the British-Swedish drugmaker's vaccine.

Japan has so far vaccinated just 4.1 per cent of its population, the slowest rate among the world's larger, rich countries.

In contrast to some other Group of Seven (G-7) countries that are beginning to end pandemic-busting lockdown measures, much of Japan remains under emergency curbs amid a fourth wave of infections.

On Friday, medical experts approved the government's proposal to add the southern prefecture of Okinawa to its list of prefectures subject to the strictest emergency measures. That would take the list to 10 prefectures including Tokyo, host of the Olympic Games starting in about two months.

Fears that the Olympics would turn into a super-spreader event have persisted, keeping the majority of the public opposed to holding the Games this year. A Reuters corporate survey published on Friday showed nearly 70 per cent of Japanese firms also want the Games either cancelled or postponed.

The state of emergency for Okinawa, widely expected to be formalised later on Friday, would run for about a month from Sunday through June 20, economy minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said, beyond the May 31 end of the other nine.

The move would mark the third consecutive week that Japan has expanded the state of emergency.

Japan has so far recorded about 695,000 coronavirus infections and 12,000 Covid-19 deaths - much fewer than many countries - but its medical system is increasingly strained by a spike in more infectious variants of the virus.

With the Olympics starting on July 23, Tokyo is under particular pressure to bring infections and strain on the medical system down from the most dire "Stage Four" level and emerge from a state of emergency as scheduled this month.

After a 30-minute meeting with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Friday, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said she requested a sufficient supply of vaccines for the capital as it begins mass-vaccinations next week, and said the two shared their commitment to working towards a "safe and secure" Olympics this summer.

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