A little over a year after the deadly coronavirus started spreading in Japan, the government has approved its first vaccine, kick-starting a huge rollout program for the nation of 126 million people, writes Osamu Tsukimori.

Pfizer’s COVID-19 mRNA vaccine got the final OK for emergency use on Sunday from health minister Norihisa Tamura, two days after the first batch arrived from Belgium by plane. Inoculations for medical workers should start on Wednesday.

Around 80% of the population must have immunity against COVID-19 through vaccinations or previous infection to achieve herd immunity and start turning the tide against the virus. However, in a recent survey, only 63% of respondents expressed willingness to get a shot while 27.4% said they wouldn’t. Experts in the medical field are calling for the government to step up and clearly articulate the case for inoculation.

Coronavirus vaccines arrive in Japan | NIPPON TV NEWS 24 JAPAN
Coronavirus vaccines arrive in Japan | NIPPON TV NEWS 24 JAPAN

Despite falling numbers of new infections, the state of emergency in force across 10 prefectures was left in place Friday, with the government deciding against lifting the measure now amid concern among health officials over high numbers of hospitalized patients, reports Satoshi Sugiyama.

A total of 132 people with the coronavirus died in places other than hospitals in January, National Police Agency sources said Friday. The monthly number of such deaths more than doubled from 56 in December, surpassing the cumulative total of 122 from the whole of 2020.

Sunday’s (and last Sunday’s) new COVID-19 cases by prefecture (40 or over): Tokyo 371 (429), Saitama 131 (187), Kanagawa 108 (164), Chiba 108 (121), Osaka 98 (117), Aichi 77 (72), Fukuoka 69 (93), Hokkaido 52 (69), Hyogo 44 (54). Source: Japan COVID-19 Coronavirus Tracker