Japan passed legislation Wednesday to provide coronavirus vaccinations free of charge for all residents, with the central government covering the cost, offering a key plan to stem the virus as the country struggles with its worst-yet wave of infections, including 500 new cases in Tokyo the same day.

The law, which will go into effect following approval in the more powerful Lower House, also makes local governments responsible for administering the immunizations, according to the health ministry. It includes a provision obliging citizens in principle to make efforts to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. But the provision will not go into effect unless the effectiveness and safety of vaccines are fully confirmed.

In what could be a complementary treatment to vaccines, scientists at the University of Pennsylvania and biotech firm Regeneron are investigating whether gene therapy technology can be used to make a nasal spray that will prevent infections.

The idea, they say, is to use a weakened virus as a delivery mechanism to carry genetic instructions to cells within the nose and the throat, which will in turn create powerful antibodies to stop the coronavirus from invading our bodies.

A patient is taken to the Wuhan Red Cross Hospital in January. | AFP-JIJI
A patient is taken to the Wuhan Red Cross Hospital in January. | AFP-JIJI

While many scientists are racing to find vaccines to tame the pandemic’s spread, others are probing the past, trying to unravel one of the greatest mysteries of the virus: exactly where it came from.

A crack World Health Organization team of 10 scientists will trace the origins of the virus, which many agree has an animal origin, AFP-Jiji reports. Although the WHO leadership is optimistic, success is by no means assured.

Indeed, one key question remains: Will the team be allowed access to China?

One year after the virus began spreading from the Wuhan, the epicenter of the virus, the next-of-kin of those who perished in the pandemic are no nearer to closure, writes AFP-Jiji, as the Chinese government’s refusal to take responsibility for early failures in the outbreak complicates the task of coming to terms with their loss.