• Reuters, Jiji, Bloomberg

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Japan is suspending approval for companies and universities to inoculate staff and students amid concerns that an increase in such applications will hamper the smooth delivery of shots, Taro Kono, the minister in charge of vaccines, said.

The government has been accepting applications from companies and universities to administer Moderna vaccines, but it will stop accepting new applications at 5 p.m. Friday, Kono said. It has already stopped accepting new applications temporarily for mass vaccination programs of local governments.

"We would like to suspend accepting new applications, given that we are already reaching the maximum capacity to distribute the vaccines," Kono told a news conference Wednesday.

"I believe we've come to the next crucial stage of ensuring the smooth distribution of vaccines," following issues in securing and administering them, Kono said.

Kono said that he did not know when the government would be able to restart accepting applications for workplace and university vaccination programs.

While the government plans to supply 50 million doses of the Moderna vaccine by the end of September, Kono said that the number of doses to be administered at workplaces and universities, and under local governments' mass inoculation programs, is expected to top 33 million and 12 million, respectively, at this point.

He also said that the maximum possible amount of vaccine doses has been delivered daily.

The government will carefully examine whether applications for vaccine doses exceeding necessary amounts have been made for workplace and local government programs, Kono said.

Once the examination is over, surplus doses will be delivered to companies, universities and local governments on the waiting list after their applications are approved, he added.

Japan's vaccination drive, which got off to a slow start in mid-February, has seen the pace pick up in recent weeks. Workplace vaccination drives started on Monday.

Japan has hit a target set by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to vaccinate 1 million people a day, the government said Wednesday.

The milestone was achieved on June 14, according to data compiled by Bloomberg using figures released from the Prime Minister’s Office on Wednesday. There is a considerable lag in the reporting of vaccination data by local authorities, so much so that vaccine minister Kono has been reported to suggest the government might skip shipments of shots to municipalities that are slow to report.

The figure from June 14, a Monday, may include some medical workers who were vaccinated on Saturday or Sunday.

So far about 18% of a population of 125 million has got at least one dose, a Reuters tracker shows. The figure is the lowest level among major economies, with one month remaining until the start of the delayed Tokyo Olympics.

Suga had said he hoped to see older people vaccinated by the end of July and to finish inoculating everyone who’s willing to be inoculated by October or November. His administration’s handling of the virus, the vaccine rollout and the looming Olympics is in the spotlight as he plans for both a parliamentary election and a party leadership race in the fall.

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