After a long wait, Japan’s vaccine rollout is set to start in less than two weeks. But with the process in other countries not going as smoothly as had been hoped, there are worries that Japan could also face similar problems. In a Q&A, Osamu Tsukimori took a closer look at Japan’s vaccination plan, including for foreign residents, and some of the challenges that might lie ahead.

Japan appeared to have dodged one potential hiccup Friday with news that the EU has greenlighted exports of COVID-19 vaccines to the country for the first time under its new approval system. There had been concerns that the EU might block the export to ensure there are adequate supplies for the vaccine rollout within the 27-nation bloc.

A survey in December, meanwhile, offers a rough idea of where Japan stands on the long road toward herd immunity. The results indicate that, unsurprisingly, Tokyo has the highest number of those with coronavirus antibodies, though the rate was below 1% in all five prefectures surveyed.

No coronavirus herd immunity found in Japan’s second mass antibody tests | NIPPON TV NEWS 24 JAPAN
No coronavirus herd immunity found in Japan’s second mass antibody tests | NIPPON TV NEWS 24 JAPAN

New infections are on a downward trend, with the nationwide total dropping below 2,000 on Sunday and 52 new deaths reported. On Thursday, Tokyo’s death toll from COVID-19 overtook that of Osaka Prefecture, and on Saturday the capital’s cumulative number of fatalities linked to the coronavirus rose over the 1,000 mark. Osaka was just two shy of the same grim milestone as of Sunday.

The occupancy rate for hospital beds set aside for coronavirus patients topped 50% in 12 of Japan’s 47 prefectures as of Wednesday, down by three from a week before, the health ministry said. While Osaka is one of the 12 prefectures still at Stage 4 on the country’s four-level alert scale, Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura may decide to ask the central government to cancel the emergency for the prefecture this week, Eric Johnston reports.

Sunday’s (and last Sunday’s) new COVID-19 cases by prefecture (50 or over): Tokyo 429 (633), Saitama 187 (243), Kanagawa 164 (390), Chiba 121 (212), Osaka 117 (214), Fukuoka 93 (127), Aichi 72 (121), Hokkaido 69 (104), Hyogo 54 (111), Ibaraki 50 (63). Source: Japan COVID-19 Coronavirus Tracker