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Coronavirus digest: Japan approves first COVID vaccine

February 14, 2021

Japanese officials say nationwide inoculations will begin in a matter of days. Meanwhile, nations in the EU are tightening border measures. DW has the latest.

Participants pretend to receive a vaccine shot during a mock inoculation exercise south of Tokyo
Participants pretend to receive a vaccine shot during a mock inoculation exercise south of TokyoImage: Kim Kyung-Hoon/REUTERS

With the Tokyo Olympics just months away, Japan formally approved its first coronavirus vaccine on Sunday.

The BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine is the first to be greenlit in Japan, with nationwide vaccinations set to begin next week, according to the health ministry.

Front-line medical workers will be the first to get the jab starting on Wednesday. The elderly and around 3.7 million other healthcare workers are expected to be vaccinated starting in April, while the rest of the population are expected to be eligible in June.

The announcement comes several months after other countries launched their vaccination campaigns. In a bid to ease skepticism over the coronavirus vaccines, Japan delayed its vaccine rollout to conduct further tests.

Critics raised concerns, however, about the small sample size of the extra tests – while others question whether the delay was worth it.

Vaccinations are seen as key to holding the delayed 2020 Olympics in Tokyo this summer.


Some countries in the European Union have imposed restrictions on the bloc's internal bordersto combat the spread of the new variants of coronavirus.

On Saturday, Slovakian Foreign Minister Ivan Korcok sent a diplomatic note to German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas over the travel restriction for truck drivers. At the heart of the Slovakian concern is the requirement to show a negative COVID-19 test, no older than 48 hours, at the border to enter Germany.

"This measure will cause huge problems and is almost impossible for our lorry drivers to fulfill in practice," Korcok told Maas.

The intervention comes after Berlin flagged Slovakia as an area with dangerous COVID-19 mutations. Korcok raised concerns that other EU countries could take Germany's example and impose similar measures. 

"Our economies are closely linked ..., so I demand that we avoid steps within the EU that could lead to reciprocal measures and further disruption of the single market," he said.

Italy will tighten the rules for people entering the country from Austria, starting Sunday, with multiple tests and a mandatory two-week quarantine. 

Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza said people who have stayed in Austria for more than 12 hours, even travelers who are transiting, will be required to present a negative COVID-19 test less than two days old at the border and will have to quarantine when they enter the country.

Speranza said Rome is gearing up to protect itself from the South African strain of the coronavirus that is spreading in Austria.

The government in the Czech Republic is hard-pressed to find ways to extend a state of emergency amid surging coronavirus infections, despite a parliament vote to let the COVID-19 restrictions expire. 

The state of emergency, that had made it legally possible to impose strict measures such as closing of shops and curfews, is set to end at midnight on Sunday.

Biologist Jaroslav Flegr has warned that 20,000 additional people might die if the measures were eased.

The situation is particularly worse in hotspot Cheb and Sokolov near the border with Germany, which is sealed off.

European Union admits failings with coronavirus vaccine rollout

Clashes broke out between police and demonstrators in Cyprus on Saturday, as hundreds gathered in Nicosia to protest against government corruption and coronavirus restrictions.

The police used water cannons and tear gas to disperse the agitating crowd.

The protesters expressed their anger over the government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has hit the Cypriot economy hard and triggered strict lockdown measures.

Germany looks for ways out of the pandemic

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to host a virtual meeting of the Group of Seven (G7) nations next week, where he plans to appeal to the world's richest countries to join hands in a "colossal mission" to ensure equal distribution of COVID-19 vaccines


Over 50 million doses of coronavirus vaccines have been administered in the United States while nearly 69.9 million doses have been delivered, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Saturday. 

The figures included doses for both Moderna and BioNtech-Pfizer vaccines.

Venezuela on Saturday received the first 100,000 doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine. 

Medical and healthcare workers will be the first to be inoculated with the COVID-19 vaccine, President Nicolas Maduro said in a tweet. 

"Here is the vaccine to serve the most vulnerable sectors with the highest priority, health personnel, for example; it is a vaccine that addresses the most grave cases of patients with morbidities," said Vice President Delcy Rodriguez.

"It is a vaccine that seeks to reduce community transmission," she said.


South Africa is reopening 20 of its land border crossings, lifting the stringent measure imposed last month to curb the rising coronavirus caseload.

The country's Home Affairs Ministry on Saturday said the border points include those with Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Botswana.

With over 1.4 million cases of infection and more than 47,000 deaths, South Africa is the worst-hit nation on the continent and is also battling a new variant of the coronavirus, which emerged in South Africa at the end of last year.


Lebanon received its first doses of coronavirus vaccines on Saturday with aid from the World Bank. Nearly 28,500 doses of the BioNtech-Pfizer vaccine arrived at the airport in Beirut.

The vaccines are the first batch of the 2.1 million doses slated to arrive in stages throughout the year.

The World Bank has said that it would monitor the vaccine rollout closely to ensure the doses go to the most vulnerable groups. 


New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Sunday announced a three-day lockdown in Auckland after three unexplained cases of coronavirus were discovered.

After an urgent meeting with her cabinet, Ardern said she and ministers had decided to take a cautious approach until they could find out more about the outbreak.

The Australian state of Victoria has reported two new cases of locally transmitted infections, increasing the likelihood of an extension to the region's five-day lockdown.

Victorian authorities introduced the snap lockdown to curb the spread of the highly infectious UK variant, but two new cases, including a 3-year-old, may see the restriction go beyond this coming Wednesday.

The two positive tests were the first to come from individuals who were not household contacts of a cluster of infected workers at a quarantine hotel at Melbourne airport which triggered the new lockdown. The hotel cluster has now affected 16 people.

dvv,jsi/sms (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)