European Union curbs on exports of COVID-19 vaccines could delay Japan’s inoculation drive, the minister in charge of the campaign says.
The news comes with the government poised to extend a state of emergency in a bid to rein in the epidemic.
Japan is set to begin its vaccination campaign this month, later than most major economies, and any delay could sow doubts about a government aim to secure enough doses for everyone before the start of the Tokyo Olympics in July.
“The EU has enacted this export transparency mechanism, and it is affecting Japan’s supply schedule,” Taro Kono, the minister in charge of the vaccine effort, said.
Japan is relying on foreign vaccine manufacturers and Kono warned last week that growing nationalism over the shots could lead to retaliation and disruptions to global supplies.
Japan has secured rights to more than 500 million vaccine doses from several Western developers, more than enough for its 126 million population.
But the dependence on overseas makers and a requirement that the vaccines go through domestic trials have delayed its campaign.
Japan has reported 391,618 coronavirus infections, with 5832 deaths, and persistent flare-ups in infections have undermined public support for the delayed 2020 Summer Olympics.
Nevertheless, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and his government are determined to host the Games.
Infections have trended down in recent days but the government has to be cautious, a top official said.
“We’ll respond with a sense of urgency based on the medical situation and virus spread,” Katsunobu Kato, chief cabinet secretary, said.
“The number of new coronavirus cases is falling, but caution is still needed,” Kato said, adding that hospitals remained full and the death rate had not fallen.
Suga is due to make a decision on any emergency extension after a meeting of an expert panel later on Tuesday.
The government last month imposed a one-month state of emergency for 11 areas, including Tokyo and neighbouring prefectures as well as the western city of Osaka, to combat the country’s third and most lethal coronavirus wave.