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Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Thursday that the government will offer free COVID-19 tests to everyone in areas where the omicron variant of the coronavirus is feared to be spreading, including Osaka, Kyoto and Okinawa prefectures.

Kishida made the announcement during a lecture organized by the Research Institute of Japan, after the country’s first community-acquired cases of the omicron variant were confirmed in Osaka on Wednesday. The institute is affiliated with Jiji Press.

More community-acquired omicron cases were reported in Osaka and Kyoto on Thursday, while a large cluster of coronavirus infections has emerged at the U.S. military’s Camp Hansen in Okinawa.

“In Osaka, Kyoto and Okinawa, anxiety is growing” among local residents, Kishida said. “In areas facing the need to take measures to contain the omicron variant, we’ll conduct free tests on all people who feel uneasy.”

The cumulative number of infections with the omicron variant detected in Japan reached 200 on Thursday, with 40 people newly confirmed to have been infected with the variant.

The 40 include 33 people who were found positive for the omicron variant at airport quarantine checks after arriving from the United States, Britain, Kenya and elsewhere between Dec. 14 and Monday, according to the health ministry and other sources.

Of the other seven new cases, four were confirmed in Okinawa, and one each in Chiba, Kyoto and Osaka.

For people who cannot be vaccinated against the coronavirus due to health reasons and those under 12 years old, who are currently not eligible for shots in Japan, the government plans to start offering free COVID-19 tests without bookings in all prefectures by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, the government indicated last month that it would expand the scope of its free coronavirus testing to include asymptomatic people who are worried about being infected with the coronavirus at times when cases are increasing rapidly.

Regarding Merck & Co.’s COVID-19 oral drug molnupiravir, the prime minister said the government is ready to approve the drug immediately if a health ministry panel gives it the green light at its meeting on Friday.

He stressed that the government will distribute 200,000 doses of the drug across the country starting this weekend to make it available from next week.

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