The unequal access to vaccines across Asia will jeopardise the region’s economic recovery from Covid-19, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said yesterday, as he vowed to provide the necessary logistical support to facilitate the equitable distribution of shots.
This will be high on the agenda as Mr Suga hosts the Covax Advance Market Commitment (AMC) summit on June 2, he told the 26th International Conference on the Future of Asia, or Nikkei conference.
The Covax AMC is a global effort by developed countries to buy and distribute shots to poorer nations.
“Japan will continue to make efforts to ensure equitable access to safe and effective vaccines throughout the world, including developing countries,” Mr Suga said, adding that it will support the development of cold chain logistics that are vital for vaccine deliveries at sub-zero temperatures.
The challenges posed by the ongoing pandemic took centre stage on the first day of the fully online two-day conference, of which The Straits Times is a media partner.
The Future of Asia, organised by Japanese media giant Nikkei, is an annual forum that gathers regional leaders for geopolitical and economic discussions.
Earlier, Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar criticised the hoarding of vital medical supplies amid the nationalism evident in much of the pandemic.
In a veiled criticism of the European Union and the United States, he noted: “Stresses induced narrow definitions of self-interest and departures from collective endeavours. Few practised what they preached, and some even stopped preaching altogether.”
China’s former central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan said that Covid-19 had exposed the fragility of global healthcare systems.
But he added: “A major challenge is to ensure quick access to affordable vaccines, and Japan, China, South Korea and India are shouldering an important mission as key actors in the global research and development of new drugs and therapies.”
Mr Suga’s address did not mention the domestic pressures he is under.
Japan, the world’s third-largest economy, is vaccinating its population at about the same rate as Myanmar, now under a military regime.
The Covid-19 death rate is higher in the western prefecture of Osaka – with 235 deaths per million people – than in India, with 208 deaths per million.
A state of emergency now covers nine prefectures, including Tokyo and Osaka, with a decision on a 10th – Okinawa – likely due today, following a surge in cases.
There are, however, some bright spots that give Mr Suga hope that a “safe and secure” Olympic Games can be held in Tokyo in two months – a pledge that he repeated yesterday.
Japan approved vaccines by Moderna and AstraZeneca yesterday, while mass vaccination centres are due to start operations in Tokyo and Osaka next Monday.
New cases have dipped in hot spots such as Tokyo and Osaka in recent days, though experts continue to warn against letting one’s guard down, given the new strains that have become mainstream.
Mr Suga’s vision of post-Covid-19 growth is centred on areas such as digitalisation and clean energy, which he pledged to work closely with Asean on, under the infrastructure thrust of the Free and Open Indo-Pacific.
He told the Nikkei forum that Japan will take the lead in the creation of international rules for next-generation telecommunication standards to build a free and open digital space across the Indo-Pacific.
“The road to controlling Covid-19 infections and to the recovery of society and the economy will not be smooth,” he said. “But Japan is determined to lead a strong recovery of Asia, which is the growth centre of the world.”