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Japan’s PM vows to speed up booster shots

TOKYO (AP) – Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida yesterday pledged to double the number of COVID-19 booster shots being delivered on a daily basis across the country, as his government faces criticism for a delayed rollout of vaccines.

Speaking before lawmakers, Kishida said authorities would aim to deliver around one million boosters a day by the end of February.

The premier said the added doses are “key” to fighting the ongoing Omicron surge of infections. Recent media polls show that Kishida’s ratings fell for the first time since he took office in October, with disapproval for his virus measures rising and many respondents complaining about slow booster vaccinations.

His predecessor, Yoshihide Suga, was eventually forced to resign over a perceived mismanagement of pandemic measures. Less than five per cent of the population has so far received a third jab of coronavirus vaccine. Japan launched its booster programme last December, after having already fallen behind many other developed countries in distributing second doses of vaccines. About 80 per cent of the population have completed two shots.

Kishida said his government will aim to inoculate all elderly people who wish to get their booster shots by the end of February before reaching younger people in March.

To speed up booster rollouts, Kishida’s government last week launched a mass inoculation centre run by Japan’s armed forces in Tokyo, and will open a similar centre in Osaka next week. Officials have asked major companies to start administering jabs at worksites around mid-February.

Vaccination rates have dwindled and infections shown no signs of slowing weeks after social distancing and pandemic restrictions were reinstated in most of the country. Japan has resisted imposing lockdowns, but requested shorter hours for bars and restaurants, while imposing a strict border closure since November that has barred most foreign entrants.

On Sunday, Japan posted nearly 90,000 new cases for an accumulated total of 3.3 million cases, with more than 19,000 deaths.

People wearing protective masks wait for traffic light in Tokyo, Japan. PHOTO: AP
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