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Tokyo: Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida vowed Tuesday to speed up coronavirus vaccine booster shots, secure imported supplies of drugs to treat COVID-19 and reorganize medical facilities to respond to the fast-spreading omicron variant.

Kishida, who took office in October, said he had ordered strict border controls from November to buy time for such preparations. Japan has basically shut out incoming travel except for returning residents and Japanese nationals.

The response to the contagious omicron variant will now shift to domestic measures, such as making free coronavirus tests more readily available, while border controls will continue, he said.

“I just offered prayers so that we may overcome the coronavirus pandemic and this year will be a fantastic year for all of you,” he told reporters after praying at the Ise Shrine in Mie Prefecture, southwest of Tokyo. Japanese leaders visit the picturesque shrine complex at the start of every year, although Kishida’s predecessor Yoshihide Suga canceled it last year because of the pandemic.

Kishida said the oral drug from Merck has been distributed to thousands of hospitals, and efforts were underway to procure the Pfizer oral drug as well, for use starting next month in treating symptomatic coronavirus cases.

“I want to make this year one of dramatic challenges to forge ahead with a new era. But in areas where we need to exercise caution, we must not forget the humility to proceed with caution,” Kishida added, noting care was needed for a proper pandemic response.

 He said everyone who tests positive for COVID-19 and needs hospitalization will be speedily admitted for treatment, while those who can recover at home should do so, monitored by medical professionals. Other facilities will also be readied for those who don’t need to be hospitalized but need to quarantine, depending on symptoms, he said. Although COVID-19 cases and deaths have fallen lately in Japan, worries are growing about another “sixth wave” of infections because of the omicron variant.            




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