As Okinawa booster rollout lags, Kishida plans efforts to promote shots

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Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is keen on promoting COVID-19 vaccinations in Okinawa Prefecture, which has the country’s lowest rate of people who have received their third shots.

Kishida apparently believes that slow progress in vaccinations in Okinawa is behind its severe coronavirus situation, compared with other prefectures.

The prime minister plans to send Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, also minister in charge of promoting vaccinations, to the prefecture for two days from Sunday. Matsuno is expected to urge the prefectural and municipal governments to make efforts to raise vaccination rates.

The upcoming trip will be Matsuno’s second to Okinawa this month, an unusual move. Earlier this month, he traveled to the prefecture as the minister in charge of reducing the burden on Okinawa of hosting U.S. bases.

According to data released by the central government on Wednesday, the number of new infection cases per 100,000 people over the past week came to 647 in Okinawa, the highest among Japan’s 47 prefectures and more than double Tokyo’s 318 cases. Also, it was the only prefecture where the hospital bed occupancy rate was above 50%.

Meanwhile, the inoculation rate for third doses stood at 36.6% in Okinawa, far lower than the national average of 49.1%.

Informed of Okinawa’s vaccination rate at a meeting with related ministers last week, Kishida raised his voice and ordered efforts to improve the situation, according to informed sources.

The prime minister is apparently concerned that if the situation continues into the Golden Week holiday period from later this month, the virus could spread nationwide through tourists to Okinawa, potentially affecting his ruling party’s performance in this summer’s Upper House election.

Soon after the meeting with Kishida, economic revitalization minister Daishiro Yamagiwa, who is in charge of the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, had talks with Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki online, urging the governor to surely promote vaccinations, while comparing the prefectural and national inoculation rates.

The government has also postponed the return of a liaison team it sent to check the situation in Okinawa on the ground. The team was scheduled to return last Friday.

“The low vaccination rate among young people is especially impacting the prefecture-wide rate for third shots,” Matsuno said at a news conference Wednesday.

“We will seek to closely cooperate with the prefecture to promote vaccinations,” Matsuno added, citing such efforts as giving shots at shopping malls and targeting students for vaccinations.

Nationwide, COVID-19 infection cases are showing signs of decreasing, a panel of experts at the health ministry said Wednesday.

The panel said infections are on the decline mainly in major cities and surrounding areas while cases are still rising in some prefectures, including Akita, Fukushima, Nagano, Miyazaki and Kagoshima.

Speaking at a news conference after the panel’s meeting on the day, Takaji Wakita, chair of the panel and head of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, attributed the nationwide decline to people implementing infection prevention measures, such as wearing face masks, and getting their third vaccine shots.

Increasing COVID-19 cases in some areas “may be related to the rate of people who have received their third vaccine shots,” he said, pointing to the need to promote the rollout of third shots.

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