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Japan's spending on COVID vaccines, medical care hits $122 bil., could increase

The main entrance to the Ministry of Finance building is seen in Tokyo. (Mainichi/Kiyohiro Akama)

TOKYO -- Japan has spent at least 16 trillion yen (roughly $122.6 billion) on coronavirus-related projects including vaccinations and enhanced medical care since the first case of the virus was confirmed in the country in January 2020 -- and it appears spending is set to increase.

    The Ministry of Finance released a rough breakdown of the 16 trillion yen during an April 13 subcommittee meeting of the Fiscal System Council, an advisory body to the finance minister. Nearly 40%, or 6 trillion yen (approx. $46 billion), was used to fund the "emergency comprehensive subsidy" that prefectural governments can use to secure hospital beds and cover infection prevention measures. Of this, 2.2 trillion yen ($16.9 billion) was spent on securing beds, and some 440 billion yen ($3.4 billion) was used to pay bonuses to medical professionals. As of the end of April 2022, 43,200 beds had been secured for COVID-19 patients.

    Meanwhile, a total of 4.7 trillion yen (about $36 billion) was spent on Japan's COVID vaccine program, which included procurement and rollout costs for a combined 272 million doses that the country has administered. Of the 4.7 trillion yen, vaccine procurement from multiple pharmaceutical firms for the first to fourth rounds of shots cost 2.4 trillion yen ($18.4 billion), while expenses including aid to medical workers who administer vaccines and the cost of securing inoculation venues totaled 2.3 trillion yen ($17.6 billion).

    Japan has also spent 1.3 trillion yen ($9.9 billion) on procuring oral medication and IV-administered drugs to treat COVID-19, while investing another 1.3 trillion yen to aid domestic vaccine production systems.

    The Finance Ministry maintains that the 16 trillion yen in spending in the fiscal 2020-2022 budgets and reserve funds covered major projects to boost the country's medical care system. However, the separate "emergency local revitalization subsidy" that local governments can use to boost their economies is also being spent on securing medical care systems.

    The Mainichi Shimbun asked multiple local governments how they used the subsidy, and prefectures including Chiba and Okinawa said they paid medical institutions that had accepted COVID-19 patients, using the emergency subsidy as a source of funds that are provided for each accepted patient.

    COVID-related spending of 16 trillion yen equates to a financial burden of at least 120,000 yen (about $919) per person in Japan. Former internal affairs minister Hiroya Masuda, who serves as the Fiscal System Council subcommittee's deputy chairperson, said, "Increased public spending during the initial crisis response can't be helped, but as we're now in our third year (into the coronavirus crisis), we should start auditing spending in various areas, and address the question of whether money is being spent just out of habit."

    (Japanese original by Takuya Murata, Lifestyle and Medical News Department; and Yusuke Matsukura, Business News Department)

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