Japan Olympic Chief Says ‘No Way’ To Ensure Zero Virus Cases

The Olympic Rings are pictured in front of the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Lausanne on March 21, 2020, as doubts increase over whether Tokyo can safely host the summer Games amid the spread of the COVID-19. Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP.

 

Japan’s Olympic chief said Monday there was “no way” to ensure zero virus cases among teams arriving for the Tokyo Games, as officials prepare to tighten screening procedures.

Japanese Olympic Committee president Yasuhiro Yamashita said “thorough measures” would be necessary at airports, after two members of Uganda’s team tested positive last week following their arrival in Japan.

“No matter what measures are put in place, there is no way we will have zero positive cases arriving,” Yamashita told reporters.

“Even if you’ve had two vaccine doses, it doesn’t guarantee every individual will be negative.”

On Sunday, a Games official had said teams should be immediately isolated if they arrive in Japan with an infected team member.

“In order to make sure no clusters arise, we need to have thorough measures at the border at the time of entry to Japan,” Yamashita said, adding that daily virus testing would also help reduce the risk of infections spreading.

But he hoped athletes would have “positive memories” of the Games, despite “severe restrictions” that mean they can’t even leave the Olympic Village to buy souvenirs.

Yamashita, a former Olympic judo gold-medallist, said he sympathised with the athletes, who will be confined to the Village when they are not training or competing.

“How can international athletes have some time to relax and create some positive memories?”

“Of course, the top priority is to make it safe and secure, but I think we need to make an effort to give athletes that kind of space,” Yamashita said.

Several high-profile athletes have already said they will not compete in Tokyo, with tennis star Serena Williams the latest to drop out on Sunday.

Williams did not give a reason for her withdrawal, but a ban on family members at the Olympics would have separated her from her daughter.

Athletes must sign a written pledge promising to abide by antivirus rules in Tokyo, including staying away from tourist areas, shops and bars, limiting contact with other people, and not using public transport.

Yamashita, who won gold at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics but missed the 1980 Moscow Games because Japan boycotted the event, said athletes would find it “difficult” to spend so long cooped up inside.

“I think the athletes will be spending their time here in Japan in extremely restricted conditions,” he said.

“I think this is something that we need to understand, and not think of the athletes as being strong-willed or selfish.”

Yamashita lamented the fact that virus restrictions and a ban on overseas fans coming to Japan means the Tokyo Games will not be the cultural exchange he was looking forward to.

But he still thinks the event can leave a meaningful legacy.

“There was a feeling that the Olympics were becoming huge and extravagant,” he said.

“I believe we’ve been given an opportunity to rethink what the Olympics are about. I think that’s where the Tokyo Games can be significant.”

 

AFP

Former Japan Justice Minister Jailed For Vote-Buying

Japanese Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai.

 

 

A former Japanese justice minister received a three-year jail term on Friday for vote-buying in an attempt to get his wife elected to a national office, local media said.

Katsuyuki Kawai, 58, was found guilty of charges that he distributed 29 million yen ($260,000 at today’s rates) to about 100 people in 2019, to help secure an upper house seat for his wife Anri, national broadcaster NHK said.

He was fined 1.3 million yen ($11,800) in addition to the jail term, local media added.

Officials at the Tokyo District Court could not immediately confirm the reports.

Katsuyuki, a close confidant of former prime minister Shinzo Abe, had reversed his earlier claims of innocence and broadly conceded the allegations against him.

Anri, who won her seat in the July 2019 election, has already been found guilty over her role in the scheme and received a suspended sentence of 16 months earlier this year.

Katsuyuki’s sentence is not suspended, meaning he faces jail time. But the Yomiuri Shimbun daily reported that he appealed.

He was named justice minister by Abe in 2019 but left the office after only a few weeks as the scandal emerged.

The headquarters of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party reportedly provided 150 million yen to Anri’s election campaign, an unusually large sum to boost campaign efforts.

Japan To Set 10,000-Spectator Cap Ahead Of Olympics

The Olympic Rings are pictured in front of the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Lausanne on March 21, 2020, as doubts increase over whether Tokyo can safely host the summer Games amid the spread of the COVID-19. Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP.

 

Japan is planning to set a cap of 10,000 fans at sports events ahead of the Olympics, a cabinet minister said Wednesday, as organisers weigh how many domestic spectators can attend the Games.

The proposed measure would come into force after a Covid-19 state of emergency in Tokyo and other parts of the country ends on June 20, and would last until the end of August, said Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister in charge of virus measures.

It would limit spectators to 50 percent of a venue’s capacity or 10,000 people, whichever is smaller, he said. The plan is expected to become official later this week.

“It is important that we maintain thorough anti-infection measures to prevent a rebound in cases, especially as we foresee a spread of the Delta variant,” Nishimura told a government advisory panel, which endorsed the plan.

The move could set the boundaries for a decision by Olympic organisers on how many domestic fans — if any — can attend Games events when Tokyo 2020 kicks off on July 23. Overseas spectators have already been banned.

Japan has seen a comparatively small virus outbreak, with slightly more than 14,000 deaths despite avoiding harsh lockdowns.

But its vaccination programme has moved slower than many other developed nations, with just over five percent of the population fully inoculated so far.

The decision on Olympic spectators is expected only after the virus emergency in Tokyo ends on June 20 and the government confirms what restrictions will replace it.

Recent reports have said “quasi-emergency” measures could be introduced, including curbs on the sale of alcohol or limited opening hours for bars and restaurants.

Experts and officials have expressed concerns that huge crowds attending the virus-postponed Games could accelerate the spread of Covid-19 after the emergency measures end.

Takaji Wakita, head of the advisory panel, warned of possible surges of infection in the near future as people start to go out more in some regions, including Tokyo.

“When the government lifts the state of emergency, it’s important that restrictions are lifted gradually,” he told reporters on Wednesday after the panel met.

Under the current state of emergency, spectators are capped at 5,000 people or 50 percent of a venue’s capacity, whichever is smaller.

AFP

Japan Births Hit New Record Low In Pandemic

(FILE PHOTO) A member of the medical staff surveys one of nine babies kept in incubators, a day after they were born to a Malian woman at clinic in the western Moroccan city of Casablanca, on May 5, 2021. 

 

 

The number of babies born in Japan hit a new record low last year, official data showed, highlighting concern over the pandemic’s impact on one of the world’s lowest fertility rates.

In 2020, the greying country saw 840,832 births, according to data released Thursday by the health and labour ministry.

Politicians have expressed concern that the population of the world’s third-largest economy is shrinking faster than ever, with couples hesitant to reproduce as the pandemic fuels financial instability and fears over hospital trips.

A declining number of births is a common trend among rich nations, and Japan has long been searching for ways to encourage a baby boom.

Its giant neighbour China this week announced it will allow couples to have three children after a census showed its population is also rapidly ageing.

Japan’s net decline in population, 531,816, was a record high while the birth rate — the average number of children a woman has — declined to 1.34, the data showed.

The number of marriages, 525,490, also hit a low not seen since the end of World War II, while the number of divorces also declined.

Over 80 Percent In Japan Oppose Olympics This Year: Poll

This picture taken on May 14, 2021 shows Kenji Utsunomiya, a Japanese lawyer and former Tokyo gubernatorial candidate, displaying a campaign poster calling for the cancellation of the Tokyo .
Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP

 

More than 80 per cent of Japanese polled oppose hosting the virus-postponed Olympics this year, a new survey showed on Monday, underlining public antipathy less than 10 weeks before the Tokyo Games.

The latest downbeat poll comes after Japan expanded a coronavirus state of emergency Friday as the nation battles a fourth wave of infections.

The surge in cases has put pressure on the country’s healthcare system, with medical professionals repeatedly warning about shortages and burnout.

The weekend poll by the Asahi Shimbun daily found 43 percent of respondents want the 2020 Games cancelled, with 40 percent wanting a further postponement.

Those figures are up from the 35 percent who backed cancellation in a survey by the paper a month ago and the 34 percent who wanted a further delay.

“I am one of those in the 80 percent. I think the Olympics should be postponed. Is it that difficult to postpone it?” passer-by Sumiko Usui, 74, told AFP in Tokyo.

Takahiro Yoshida, 53, also expressed doubts over the event.

“In my honest opinion, it will be difficult to hold the Games… Athletes from overseas must be worried as well, because Japan’s coronavirus situation is bad,” he said.

Only 14 percent support holding the Games this summer as scheduled, down from 28 percent, according to the Asahi poll of 1,527 replies from 3,191 telephone calls.

If the Games go ahead, 59 percent of respondents said they want no spectators, with a third backing lower fan numbers and only three percent a regular-capacity Games.

 

This picture taken on May 14, 2021 shows Kenji Utsunomiya, a Japanese lawyer and former Tokyo gubernatorial candidate, displaying posters of the petition calling for the cancellation of the .
Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP

 ‘Cancel the Olympics’

For months, polling has found a majority in Japan oppose holding the Games this summer.

A separate poll by Kyodo News published Sunday showed 59.7 percent back cancellation, though further postponement was not listed as an option.

Olympic organisers say tough anti-virus measures, including regular testing of athletes and a ban on overseas fans, will keep the Games safe.

But the Kyodo poll found 87.7 percent of respondents worry that an influx of athletes and staff members from abroad may spread the virus.

Amid mounting public opposition to the games, several dozen protesters rallied in central Tokyo against the Olympics.

“It’s obvious to everyone that we should cancel the Games, but nobody — the Tokyo 2020 organising committee, the Tokyo government nor Prime Minister (Yoshihide) Suga — none of them are making the decision,” Toshio Miyazaki, 60, who organised the demonstration, told AFP.

“We cannot afford to host the Olympics when we have to defeat the coronavirus.”

Another demonstrator slammed government policy as “contradictory”.

“If authorities put priority on the economy, I want them to lift the restrictions on restaurants and bars,” Yusuke Kawai, a 40-year-old match-making party organiser, said.

“If they prioritise the anti-virus measures, I want them to cancel the Olympics.”

Asked about the state of public opinion Monday, government spokesman Katsunobu Kato said the administration would “make efforts so that the Japanese people understand the Tokyo Games will be held in a safe and secure manner”.

“We need to give explanations on details of the concrete (coronavirus) measures,” he said, insisting that the Games would not put further pressure on medical services.

 Mass vaccinations

Japan has seen a smaller Covid-19 outbreak than many countries, with fewer than 11,500 deaths so far. But the government has come under pressure for its vaccine rollout.

The Kyodo poll found 85 percent of respondents considered the rollout slow, with 71.5 percent unhappy with the government’s handling of the pandemic.

Thousands of slots were snapped up on Monday as online bookings opened for two mass vaccination centres which will deliver up to 10,000 shots a day in Tokyo and 5,000 in Osaka, initially to the elderly.

All 25,000 available slots were already booked up in Osaka, the centre said, while around 21,000 reservations were made in Tokyo.

-AFP

6.8-Magnitude Quake Rattles Northeast Japan, No Tsunami Risk

The earthquake hit near the epicentre of a deadly 2011 quake which triggered a towering tsunami.

 

 

A 6.8-magnitude earthquake struck off Japan’s northeastern coast on Saturday, authorities said, but no tsunami warning was issued.

At least three people were injured by Saturday’s jolt, which produced strong shaking along parts of the eastern coast and was also felt in Tokyo.

There were no immediate reports of major damage, local media said.

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) said the mid-morning quake hit at a depth of 47 kilometres (29 miles) in the Pacific, off Ishinomaki in Miyagi prefecture — near the epicentre of a huge 2011 quake which triggered a towering tsunami, killing more than 18,000 people.

Japan’s meteorological agency said Saturday there was no tsunami risk.

But an agency official warned strong aftershocks may hit the region in about a week, adding that expected bad weather may trigger landslides following the latest ground shaking.

Two people were slightly injured after windows were broken at a station in Onagawa, Miyagi, public broadcaster NHK said.

“We are aware of the news but still collecting information,” Kazuto Takeda, an official of the prefecture’s disaster management office, told AFP.

NHK also said a woman in her 80s was treated in hospital after she fell at a supermarket in Fukushima.

Local railway firms suspended services, NHK said, while elevators stopped in some buildings in Miyagi.

Fukushima nuclear plant operator TEPCO said the facility, which melted down in the wake of the 2011 tsunami, did not show any abnormalities after the latest earthquake.

“Operations are under way as usual,” TEPCO spokesman Koichiro Shiraki told AFP.

Japan sits on the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, an arc of intense seismic activity that stretches through Southeast Asia and across the Pacific basin.

The country is regularly hit by quakes, and has strict construction regulations intended to ensure buildings can withstand strong tremors.

In March, a strong 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck off the northeastern coast. It was later revised down to 6.9. Japan’s authorities issued a tsunami advisory but there was no damage on the coastline.

The region was also shaken by another strong quake in February that injured dozens. Meteorologists said it was an aftershock of the 2011 quake.

Japan’s Olympic Host Towns Pull Out Over COVID-19 Pandemic

The Olympic Rings are pictured in front of the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Lausanne on March 21, 2020, as doubts increase over whether Tokyo can safely host the summer Games amid the spread of the COVID-19. Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP.

 

Hundreds of Japanese towns and cities have been forced to rethink plans to host Olympic teams because the coronavirus will prevent public appearances and require costly safety measures.

The western town of Okuizumo spent more than $5 million preparing to welcome India’s hockey team for a pre-Games training camp, only to scrap the visit because of Covid-19.

After sinking money into upgrading sports facilities, Okuizomo balked when it became clear it would have to provide bubble-like biosecurity measures with regular virus tests and medical care.

“We wanted to have one of the world’s top tier teams visit our town and show their skills to local children,” town official Katsumi Nagase told AFP.

“But that seems impossible now.”

More than 500 municipalities signed up to host athletes and officials in a scheme aimed at broadening the Olympics’ benefits beyond Tokyo.

Some, like Okuizumo, have already scrapped plans to host overseas athletes, while others are devising careful programmes they hope will keep everyone safe.

Instead of giving residents the chance to meet elite athletes and try out new sports, towns will have to ditch any physical contact, school visits and public training sessions.

Kurihara city in northern Miyagi prefecture was planning to host South Africa’s hockey team, but decided the expense was no longer worth it given the limitations imposed by virus measures.

“It’s a project that will use our tax resources,” Hidenori Sasaki, an official with the local board of education, told AFP.

“If it becomes just athletes holding a training camp without any exchanges with local residents, local citizens won’t enjoy the benefits.”

In some cases, Olympic teams have cancelled, worried about the risk of infection before the Games.

Australia’s swimming team ditched its plan to train in Niigata’s Nagaoka city, its mayor told  media in March.

And Canada’s table tennis team will no longer go to Nagano’s Okaya city, which instead plans to put posters of athletes around town, said Tomoko Hirose of the city’s planning division.

“Our cheering may become a one-way engagement, without physical exchanges, but given the situation, we just have to move on,” she told AFP.

– Limited contact –

Not all host towns have given up on their plans.

Tsuruoka city in northern Yamagata prefecture will host several dozen Olympic and Paralympic athletes and officials from Moldova and Germany.

The city has had ties for years with Moldova, said Takayuki Ito, an official with the city’s board of education.

“What’s important for us is to continue our exchanges,” Ito told AFP, describing recent online archery competitions held with Moldovans.

“There are things you can do without spending a lot of money,” Ito said. “We have a good feeling about our programme.”

But it won’t be simple. The athletes will stay in their own dormitory and move only along designated routes to gyms and training fields, avoiding contact with residents.

In western Tottori, Yonago city will host several dozen people from Jamaica’s swimming, gymnastics and Paralympic boat teams.

The city has had ties with Jamaica since 2015, and believes its host duties will strengthen that bond, said Kyohei Takahashi at the city’s sports promotion division.

The athletes will be on a designated floor and use a staff elevator of their hotel, avoiding the lobby and main entrance to limit contact.

They will also be offered frequent virus testing, as well as designated routes to gyms and pools.

“We planned very early,” Takahashi said.

“We won’t be able to have exchanges with athletes this time. But the legacy will remain,” he added.

Insurgency: Japan Donates $2.3m Infrastructure Fund To Borno, North East Commission

File photo of a community affected by insurgency in Borno State

 

The government of Japan has donated the sum of $2.3million infrastructure funds to the Borno State government and Northeast Development Commission (NEDC).

The fund is to strengthen healthcare provision and build the resilience of health systems in conflict-affected communities.

This was revealed on Tuesday during a meeting by the United Nations Office of Project Services (UNOPS) and NEDC officials and Borno State governor, Babagana Zulum.

READ ALSO: Police Arrest Gunmen Who Kidnapped FRSC Officials

The project which is implemented by the UNOPS is primarily aimed at scaling up oxygen supply and expand vaccine storage capacity in 139 healthcare centers and nine hospitals across Borno State.

The rollout phase for the oxygen plants is expected to commence by March 2022 and is expected to benefit 7.1million residents and Internally Displaced Persons IDPs across Borno State.

Through the construction of oxygen systems in the state, the project launched virtually by Governor Zulum, fills critical gaps in clinical response to respiratory illnesses among residents of the state.

Borno State is one of the worst hit by the Boko Haram insurgency with many residents displaced and leaving in camps.

Freezer Firm To Launch Probe After Japan Vaccines Spoiled

An employee opens an ultra low-temperature freezer at a cold room of the Bexen Medical company facilities in the Spanish Basque city of Hernani, on November 18, 2020, where the Basque Country will store the vaccine for COVID-19 by Pfizer pharmaceutical laboratory after its expected arrival on December 26, 2020. 
ANDER GILLENEA / AFP

 

 

Japan said Tuesday an investigation would be launched after more than 1,000 coronavirus vaccine doses had to be thrown out when a freezer storing them malfunctioned.

A medical institution reported that 172 vials of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which must be kept between -80 and -60 degrees centigrade, were rendered useless after the freezer breakdown over the weekend, Japan’s health ministry said, wasting up to 1,032 doses.

Japan began its inoculation programme on February 17 — just over five months before the Tokyo Olympics — and has so far only approved the Pfizer/BioNTech drug.

Japanese government spokesman Katsunobu Kato said Tuesday that the cause of the malfunction was not yet clear, but the firm that installed the freezer would investigate and report back.

Kato said Japan had installed around 100 vaccine freezers nationwide by the end of February.

“We would like to respond quickly to whatever is necessary, based on what the results of the investigation carried out by the company that installed it,” Kato said.

Japan began vaccinating healthcare workers in mid-February, with the minister in charge of the process admitting he had “no idea” how much of the population would receive the jab before the Olympics, which start on July 23.

As of March 1, it had administered first doses to nearly 32,000 doctors and nurses, according to vaccine minister Taro Kono.

The country has reached deals with three major drug firms to buy enough doses for its population of 126 million.

But it was also scrambling to secure enough special syringes needed to extract six full doses from each vial of the Pfizer vaccine.

Japan is running a cautious rollout programme and is planning to initially vaccinate 40,000 healthcare workers across the country, before administering jabs to around 3.7 million more in March.

Vaccines for around 36 million people aged 65 or older are set to start from April.

Japan’s Osaka Dominates Brady To Win Australian Open

Japan’s Naomi Osaka holds the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup trophy during a victory lap following her win over Jennifer Brady of the US in their women’s singles final match on day thirteen of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on February 20, 2021. David Gray / AFP

 

Japan’s Naomi Osaka dismissed Jennifer Brady in straight sets to win the Australian Open and underline her growing hold on women’s tennis on Saturday.

Osaka edged a tight first set but controlled the second to win 6-4, 6-3 in 77 minutes in front of 7,381 fans at Rod Laver Arena.

Third seed Osaka preserves her 100 percent record in Grand Slam finals after winning the 2018 and 2020 US Opens and the 2019 title in Melbourne.

The reigning US Open champion, who beat her idol, Serena Williams, in the Melbourne semi-finals, has now won two of the last three Grand Slams as her status and reputation soars.

“We played in the semis of the US Open a couple of months ago and I told everyone that you’re going to be a problem,” Osaka told Brady at the trophy presentation.

“And I was right. It’s really incredible to me to see your growth over the past few months, it’s really cool for me to see.”

Osaka, 23, is only the third player after Monica Seles and Roger Federer to win their first four major finals, and will now rise to second in the world rankings.

She saved two match points in the fourth round against Garbine Muguruza and swept past Williams in straight sets in the semis.

On Saturday, Osaka wore down fellow big-hitter Brady, and then lifted her racquet above her head in celebration of her win as the crowd roared.

After sealing back-to-back Slam titles twice, Osaka has won half the majors she’s contested since beating Williams to win her first in 2018.

“Thank you for coming and watching, it feels really incredible for me,” she told the crowd, which was capped at half-capacity over coronavirus concerns.

“I didn’t play my last Grand Slam with fans so just to have this energy really means a lot.”

US Open rematch

The Japanese survived a seesaw start to gain control, reeling off six straight games en route to the title.

It was a rematch of last year’s epic US Open semi-final, described by some as the best match of 2020, but Osaka triumphed far more comfortably on this occasion.

Before the match, Osaka had pinpointed her return as the key, but she was helped out by a shaky Brady who lost her serve in the fourth game after two double faults.

But Brady, the 22nd seed, hit back with a break and she continued to pile pressure on Osaka’s serve.

A brilliant lob winner, showcasing her trademark athleticism, gave a pumped-up Brady a break point in the ninth game, but Osaka held on.

Brady then played a sloppy game on serve to hand over the set to Osaka, who had a 20-0 record at Melbourne Park when winning the first set.

Osaka gained a stranglehold with an early break in the second set and fired down an ace to skip out to a 3-0 lead, followed by a roar of “C’mon!”.

Brady attempted a late rally, but a calm Osaka was not to be denied.

Brady’s resilient run ended after serving 14 days’ hard quarantine before the tournament, unlike other players who were allowed out of their hotel rooms to train.

Despite the defeat, Brady will rise to a career-high 13th in the WTA rankings.

Eastern Japan Hit By Massive Earthquake

Damaged buildings are seen in Fukushima on February 13, 2021 after a strong 7.1-magnitude earthquake struck late off the eastern coast of Japan but no tsunami warning was issued, Japanese authorities said. JIJI PRESS / AFP
Damaged buildings are seen in Fukushima on February 13, 2021 after a strong 7.1-magnitude earthquake struck late off the eastern coast of Japan but no tsunami warning was issued, Japanese authorities said. JIJI PRESS / AFP

 

A strong 7.3-magnitude earthquake struck off Japan’s east coast late Saturday, rattling the region hit by the powerful 2011 quake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown just weeks before the disaster’s 10th anniversary.

The quake produced powerful shaking along parts of Japan’s eastern coast, and was felt strongly in Tokyo, but triggered no tsunami alert.

Kyodo news agency reported at least 30 people injured, but gave no further details.

There were no immediate reports of significant damage, though local news broadcast images of a landslide on a highway.

Japan’s meteorological agency said the quake hit at 11:08 pm (1408 GMT) at a depth of 60 kilometres (37 miles) in the Pacific off Fukushima — near the epicentre of the 2011 killer quake which triggered a towering tsunami and killed more than 18,000 people.

The agency initially reported the strength of the quake as 7.1, but later revised the figure upwards. It said the quake was considered an aftershock of the massive 2011 temblor.

Aftershocks continued to rattle the region in the hours afterwards and officials cautioned local residents to be vigilant. A handful of people were reported to have sought shelter at evacuation centres.

“We are working quickly to collect information but we still have no details to announce. There were some unconfirmed reports about landslides but we are still checking,” Mikihiro Meguro, an official from the Fukushima prefectural government, told AFP.

Around 950,000 homes lost power throughout the affected region, but no abnormalities were reported at the Fukushima nuclear plant, which melted down in the wake of the 2011 tsunami.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga was called to his office, and broadcaster NHK said the government would set up a special liaison office to coordinate with affected regions.

‘All messed up’

Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato addressed reporters after midnight and said evaluations were under way.

“As far as damage, casualties and structural damage are being assessed,” he said, adding that sections of the bullet train had been suspended due to power outages.

“Surveys are being done at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant,” he said.

“We have received reports that Onagawa nuclear plant and Fukushima Daichi nuclear plant are not showing any abnormality,” he added.

Images posted online showed broken glass at a shop and items spilled off the shelves at a supermarket.

Renowned author Yu Miri, who lives in Fukushima’s Minamisoma city, tweeted a photo of her home, showing books, potted plants and other belongings strewn across the floor.

“My house in Odaka, Minamisoma city is all messed up,” she wrote.

“I hear the ground rumbling. And another quake,” she tweeted about an aftershock.

Aerial footage broadcast by NHK showed a hillside that collapsed onto a highway in Fukushima region, severing the road. It was not immediately clear if anyone was hurt.

The US Geological Survey registered the quake at a revised magnitude of 7.1 with a depth of 51 kilometers.

Japan sits on the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, an arc of intense seismic activity that stretches through Southeast Asia and across the Pacific basin.

The country is regularly hit by quakes, and has strict construction regulations intended to ensure buildings can withstand strong tremors.

In September 2018, a powerful 6.6-magnitude quake rocked Hokkaido, triggering landslides, collapsing houses and killing more than 40.

AFP

Japan To Start COVID-19 Vaccines Despite Syringe Shortage

File photo: A nurse prepares to administer the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Guy’s Hospital in London, on December 8, 2020. Frank Augstein / POOL / AFP

 

Japan will start coronavirus vaccinations next week, its prime minister said Wednesday, but it is scrambling to secure suitable syringes so doses won’t go to waste.

The country has reached deals with three major drug firms to buy enough vaccine doses for its population of 126 million.

But it has not yet announced a detailed roll-out plan for the jabs, less than six months before the pandemic-postponed Olympics begin.

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is likely to become the first jab approved for use in Japan in the coming days, following domestic clinical trials required by the country’s health authorities.

“When we have confirmed the vaccine’s efficacy and safety, we will start vaccination by the middle of next week,” Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said.

Japan is trying to secure enough special syringes that can extract the full six doses from each vial of Pfizer vaccine.

More commonly used syringes can only draw five doses — meaning the last one needs to be discarded.

The syringe problem could force the country to forgo enough Pfizer vaccine doses for up to 12 million people, local media estimated.

“At first, we will use the syringes that can draw six doses, but as we vaccinate many people, these will become scarce,” Health Minister Norihisa Tamura said on Tuesday.

READ ALSO: Prince Charles Receives First Dose Of COVID-19 Vaccine

“We are working hard to secure the syringes. We are asking medical equipment manufacturers to increase their production,” he told parliament.

Around 10,000 medical workers will be the first people vaccinated in Japan, with officials hoping to expand the rollout to the elderly from April.

Toshio Nakagawa, head of the Japan Medical Association, said that a lack of information about the vaccine campaign is causing confusion among medical workers.

But he said at a Wednesday press conference that medics are committed to the vaccination programme, which he called “the most enormous undertaking, at a scale we have never experienced before”.

The jabs “will let us be on the offensive, rather than just on defence”, he added.