Japan to lift curbs, Pfizer tests medicine

Japanese emergency conditions will be eased as COVID-19 infection numbers dip.
Japanese emergency conditions will be eased as COVID-19 infection numbers dip.

Japan is set to lift the emergency restrictions while Pfizer says it is testing an oral antiviral drug for the prevention of COVID-19 infection among those who have been exposed to the virus.

The government in Tokyo decided to end the curbs in a meeting on Monday between Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister in charge of the coronavirus response.

Suga said the government would make a formal announcement on the easing of the emergency conditions on Tuesday after another meeting with a group of experts.

He said the relaxation would be gradual but that it would start on Thursday.

The health emergency has been in place in Tokyo and other parts of the country for most of the year, albeit intermittently.

The government imposed the restrictions in Tokyo in July and extended them on successive occasions until the end of September.

The authorities imposed the curbs after the worst wave of infections hit the country.

Health authorities recorded the maximum number of 25,000 daily infections in Japan on August 20.

Since then, the cases have declined between 2000-3000 in recent days.

The country has also sped up the rate of vaccination.

Health workers have fully inoculated 57 per cent of the eligible population, the latest data showed.

The lifting of the emergency conditions will mean the end of restrictions like prohibiting serving alcohol in bars and restaurants.

However, the local authorities of Tokyo and other regions plan to maintain the time limitations for these establishments, local media reported.

Japan has not imposed complete lockdown in the last nearly two years of the pandemic confinement because its legal framework does not allow it.

However, it closed its borders for more than a year, allowing only the entry of residents and other exceptional cases which remain in force.

Meanwhile, Pfizer has started testing its potential COVID-19 treatment as a preventive medicine aimed at warding off the virus if a close contact gets it.

The drug maker said on Monday that it will study the pill it is developing in combination with a low dose of the HIV drug ritonavir in people who are at least 18 years old and live in the same household with someone who is infected.

Pfizer plans to enroll 2660 people in the late-stage study.

Those participating will get either the treatment combination or a placebo orally twice a day for five to 10 days.

Researchers expect that the use of ritonavir will help slow the breakdown of the potential treatment so it remains active longer to help fight the virus.

"If successful, we believe this therapy could help stop the virus early - before it has had a chance to replicate extensively," Pfizer chief scientific officer Mikael Dolsten said in a statement from the drug maker.

Pfizer is also studying its potential treatment in people who are already infected with the virus.

It is designed to be prescribed at the first sign of infection without requiring patients to be hospitalised.

The drug maker expects to see results from those studies by the end of the year.

The pill aims to block a key enzyme that the virus needs to replicate.

with EFE with Reuters

Australian Associated Press