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Foreign business chambers urge Japan to speed up vaccine rollout

Elderly residents of Sumida Ward rest at box seats after receiving their first dose of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine at the Ryogoku Kokugikan sporting arena, in Tokyo on May 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The chambers of commerce of the United States and other advanced economies urged the Japanese government on Friday to mobilize all available resources to speed up its sluggish rollout of COVID-19 vaccines.

    The four business organizations said they appreciated efforts toward inoculating the population of Japan, including foreign residents, but that the country has so far failed to make progress comparable to other nations that are making "substantial" expansion of business and travel possible due to vaccinations.

    "We therefore urge the government to rapidly expand the vaccination program in Japan by mobilizing all of the country's considerable resources to ensure the vaccine is rapidly deployed and availability extended to a wider age group," the business bodies said in a joint statement.

    The statement was issued by the chambers of commerce of Australia and New Zealand, Canada and the United States as well as the European Business Council.

    With the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics just two months away, the Japanese capital, the northern main island Hokkaido and eight prefectures including populous Osaka remain under a state of emergency over COVID-19.

    The relatively slow progress in vaccinations comes amid growing worries about the spread of the highly contagious Indian variant of the coronavirus. Japan has been giving vaccination priority to those aged 65 or older, before those in other age brackets with pre-existing conditions can get shots.

    The United States, one of the countries ahead of Japan in vaccinations, warned its citizens earlier in the week not to travel to Japan due to the COVID-19 crisis and raised its travel alert to the highest of 4.

    The chambers also took issue with how Japan is enforcing border controls in response to the coronavirus pandemic, urging it to apply quarantine measures equally to Japanese and foreign nationals entering the country.

    They criticized the government's ban on the entry into Japan of foreign nationals traveling from certain South Asian countries such as India hit by surging coronavirus cases, saying the move was not based on public health principles.

    "Barring entry of foreign residents of Japan without any scientific evidence that they pose more risk to public health than returning Japanese nationals is both discriminatory and ineffective public health policy," the statement said.

    Japan bans the entry of foreign nationals, including those with resident status, who have been to the countries within the past two weeks of arrival, except under special circumstances. Japanese citizens are required to stay in a designated facility for 10 days of mandatory quarantine.

    "Japan should return to its previous approach, the approach of other G-7 (Group of Seven) countries, that allows foreign nationals with established residency status and their immediate family members to depart and enter the country on the same basis as Japanese nationals," the organizations said. "We ask that the government amend these rules immediately."

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