• Kyodo

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More than 50% of Japan’s population has received two shots of a COVID-19 vaccine, with the vaccination rate on course to soon draw level with countries such as Britain and France, the minister in charge of the country’s coronavirus response said Sunday.

“If vaccinations move ahead at the current pace, it will surpass 60% by the end of this month,” Yasutoshi Nishimura said on a TV program, drawing a comparison with current rates in the two major European countries.

Japan initially lagged behind other major economies with its vaccine rollout but has made relatively fast progress since.

In the United States, about 53% of the population has been fully vaccinated, according to data provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while more than 80% of people in Singapore have received two doses.

The government aims to complete the full vaccination of all those who are eligible and willing to get the shots by early November.

The vaccination program began in February with health care workers and then expanded to those age 65 or older in April. The rollout was later expanded to people under 65.

Nishimura said increasing the vaccination rate to 80% will have a considerable impact on COVID-19 infection numbers.

While Japan’s health care system remains under strain due to the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus, new cases have been decreasing in the country.

Nationwide, daily COVID-19 cases totaled about 7,200 on Sunday, falling below 8,000 for the first time since July 27, with Osaka Prefecture accounting for the most at 1,147.

The western Japan prefecture has reported fewer cases than the previous week for 11 consecutive days.

Tokyo reported 1,067 new infections the same day, bringing its seven-day rolling average to 1,384 per day, down 45.7% from the previous week.

While a state of emergency will be extended in Tokyo and 18 prefectures from Monday, the government has also laid out plans to ease restrictions in November, once a high proportion of the population has been vaccinated.

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