Japan unveiled plans Thursday to slowly ease the coronavirus state of emergency in Tokyo and several other prefectures in time for next month's opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced that the government will switch to "quasi-emergency" measures once the state of emergency expires Sunday. The looser restrictions would remain in place until July 11, just 12 days before the start of the Olympic Games.
In addition to looser restrictions, the government is expected to announce a plan to allow up to 10,000 spectators to enter venues holding Olympic events.
The initial one-month state of emergency was first declared in April due to a surge in new COVID-19 infections in the Japanese capital and beyond, and was extended in late May. The surge prompted staunch public opposition against staging the Olympics, especially among a prominent group of medical professionals that urged Suga to call off the games.
The Tokyo Olympics are set to take place after a one-year postponement as the novel coronavirus pandemic began spreading across the globe. Foreign spectators have been banned from witnessing the event.
Disappointing results for CureVac vaccine
Late-stage testing of an experimental COVID-19 vaccine has revealed some disappointing results. Preliminary findings show the vaccine developed by German biophaaceutical company CureVac is just 47% effective against the virus - below the 50% threshold set by the World Health Organization.
FILE - A volunteer receives a dose of CureVac vaccine or a placebo during a study by the German biotech firm CureVac as part of a testing for a new vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Brussels, Belgium, March 2, 2021.
The vaccine has been given to 40,000 volunteers in Latin America and Europe. Franz-Werner Haas, CureVac's chief executive, has blamed the disappointing results on the huge number of COVID-19 variants that have emerged since the start of the pandemic.
The European Union had reached an agreement with CureVac to purchase at least 225 million doses of the vaccine. The company says the Phase 3 trial will continue, with final results expected within a few weeks.
Growing concern in Africa
A report by the Associated Press Thursday reveals that public health officials on the African continent are alarmed over the slow rate of vaccinations and a surge in new COVID-19 infections. The AP says the continent has received only 2% of all vaccine doses administered globally, despite its 1.3 billion people accounting for 18% of the world's population. Some countries have yet to inoculate a single person.
The World Health Organization says nearly 90% of African countries are set to miss the global target of vaccinating 10% of their people by September.