A bill to provide coronavirus vaccinations free of charge with the central government covering the cost was passed in the Diet, offering a key plan to stem the virus as Japan struggles with its worst-yet wave of infections.
Wednesday’s passage in the Upper House following approval in the more powerful Lower House will bring the law into effect. It also makes local governments responsible for administering the immunizations, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.
The law includes a provision obliging citizens in principle to make efforts to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. But the provision will not go into effect unless the effectiveness and safety of vaccines are fully confirmed.
The move comes as a new wave of virus infections has prompted the worst-hit areas of the country to call on bars and restaurants to close early, and has forced Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to partially suspend the Go To Travel campaign, which is 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.
Suga has vowed to secure enough doses of vaccine for the “people of the country” by the first half of next year. The revised law does not clarify whether this will include foreign residents, but health ministry officials have said they expect them to be covered based on other vaccinations offered for free.
Not all Japanese nationals may be enthusiastic about immunization. An Ipsos survey conducted in October showed that 69% of Japanese respondents were willing to get a vaccine if available, compared with the global average of 73%.
Wednesday’s bill also permits the government to compensate private companies for any losses caused by health problems stemming from the vaccinations.
Aiming to secure COVID-19 vaccines for all citizens by the end of June 2021, 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 United States.
Also on Wednesday, the Diet enacted a quarantine law amendment, keeping in force for up to an additional 12 months from February 2021 a policy of using hospitalizations to isolate people who have entered Japan that are infected with the coronavirus.
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