• JIJI, KYODO

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Major retailer Aeon Co. plans to let local governments use its shopping centers as venues for COVID-19 vaccinations, informed sources said.

Some 290 large facilities, including Aeon Mall and Aeon Town shopping centers, will be offered to municipalities struggling to secure sites for inoculations.

Aeon, which has agreements with over 600 municipalities around the country on the use of its facilities as evacuation centers in times of disasters, made the decision after being asked by multiple local governments about vaccination venues.

Among the facilities, the retailer is planning to rent out its Aeon Mall Zama shopping center to the city of Zama, Kanagawa Prefecture.

The mall's multipurpose hall will be used as an inoculation site and its lounge as a waiting area. The mall will be equipped with a freezer for storing vaccines. The facility will remain open for shoppers during the vaccination program, the sources said.

Meanwhile, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group is also planning to make its facilities available for local municipalities to use as inoculation sites, other informed sources said. The banking giant will let authorities use facilities in locations including Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka.

Mitsubishi UFJ Financial has recreational facilities and training centers that have not been in regular use due to the pandemic.

The financial group will also donate ¥500 million to the University of Tokyo's Institute of Medical Science and Osaka University to support their development of COVID-19 vaccines.

A health ministry panel on Friday gave a preliminary OK to Pfizer Inc.'s coronavirus vaccine for use in Japan, with health minister Norihisa Tamura saying it could become the first to receive formal approval from the country as early as Sunday.

The government aims to start vaccinations in the next few days for around 20,000 doctors and nurses who have consented to receive the shots, Tamura said.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told reporters he would ensure the vaccines reach the public "as soon as possible."

On Friday, the first batch of some 400,000 doses arrived at Narita Airport at around 10:20 a.m. on an All Nippon Airways Co. flight from Brussels.

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