"The World and Japan" Database (Project Leader: TANAKA Akihiko)
Database of Japanese Politics and International Relations
National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS); Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia (IASA), The University of Tokyo

[Title] Press Conference by the Prime Minister regarding the Comprehensive Strengthened Measures against the Omicron Strain

[Date] December 17, 2021
[Source] Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet
[Notes] Provisional Translation
[Full text]

In response to the emergence of the Omicron strain late last month, the Government immediately took the most stringent border measures among the G7 countries, while ensuring the most careful possible implementation. The Omicron strain is extremely infectious, urging experts in Japan and abroad to predict that the infection will inevitably spread around the world sooner or later. Thus, Japan's stringent border measures are meant to be a set of extraordinary and exceptional steps allowing us to buy time and make necessary preparations until more information is available about the Omicron strain.

In light of the information on the Omicron strain gradually revealed and how major countries have responded to the spread of the Delta strain, the Government has decided to take comprehensive measures to strengthen prevention, testing, and early treatment focusing on the following three pillars, in addition to the border measures being taken on an urgent basis. We will take all possible measures to ensure that this will not cause our medical treatment structure to come under strain.

The first pillar is to accelerate the schedule for vaccination. Taking advantage of the Moderna vaccine, which was approved yesterday for booster shots, we plan to move up the vaccination schedule for some 31 million healthcare workers and elderly people after listening to the opinions of experts. Specifically, the interval between the second and third vaccine shots will be shortened by two months to six for healthcare workers, as well as residents of elderly facilities who are at high risk of developing severe symptoms. For other elderly people, the vaccination interval will be shortened by one month to seven from February next year. In moving up the schedule amid concerns about the spread of the Omicron strain, we have decided to prioritize the elderly who are at high risk of developing severe symptoms with a relatively quick decline in the effectiveness of the vaccine in preventing severe cases from developing. I would like to ask for understanding from the public for this decision intended to protect the elderly.

The second pillar is to initiate the provision of orally administered therapeutics. From the end of this year, we will start offering the treatment medicines that have been announced to be highly effective for the Omicron strain as well. Compared with other countries, Japan has been able to prepare new types of treatment medicines earlier and in larger quantities. Let me first mention that we have already secured 1.6 million doses of Mornupiravir developed by Merck. If endorsed at the expert committee scheduled for next Friday, December 24, to discuss the matter, we will promptly approve Mornupiravir and provide it to medical establishments starting at the end of this year. As for Pfizer's orally administered therapeutics, which has a different action mechanism from that of Mornupiravir, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla and I had a direct conversation over the phone earlier today and reached a basic agreement on securing two million doses. We will continue to negotiate with Pfizer to reach a final agreement including the timing of delivery, with the Minister of Health, Labour and Welfare taking the initiative. We have expressed our gratitude to Pfizer for their cooperation to date and asked for their continued cooperation.

The third pillar is to drastically strengthen the system to conduct testing. Toward the year-end and New Year holidays, when people will have more opportunities to come into contact with others on occasions such as dining, drinking, events, returning home, we are making preparations to allow all prefectures to start by the end of this year offering free testing, that do not require prior appointments, for those who cannot be vaccinated. Since taking office, I have promised that my administration's top priority is to overcome the COVID-19. I first presented a general overview of how we would improve and strengthen our preparedness, including a 30% increase in the number of hospital beds and a 40% increase in the number of recovery accommodation facilities. The supplementary budget to realize this is currently under deliberation in the Diet. And this time around, I have presented comprehensive measures to strengthen prevention, testing, and early treatment in response to new developments, such as the emergence of the Omicron strain. I will take the lead in any of these measures. As Prime Minister, I will do my utmost to protect the medial treatment structure for the Japanese people.

I believe that the meticulous attention and cooperation of the Japanese people in the battle against the COVID-19, including avoiding the three C's (closed spaces with poor ventilation, crowded places and close contact situations) and wearing face masks, are something to be proud of in the world. I sincerely ask for the cooperation of each citizen for the time being. Right after this, the Minister of Health, Labour and Welfare or the Minister in Charge of Promoting Vaccinations should be scheduled to hold a press conference. Thank you.