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From The Asian Reporter, V31, #6 (June 7, 2021), page 2.

Japan accelerates vaccination rollout before Olympics

TOKYO — Japan mobilized military doctors and nurses to give shots to elderly people in Tokyo and Osaka on May 24 as the government desperately accelerated its vaccination rollout to curb coronavirus infections just two months before hosting the Olympics. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is determined to hold the Olympics in Tokyo after a one-year delay and has made an ambitious pledge to finish vaccinating the country’s 36 million elderly people by the end of July, despite skepticism it’s possible. Worries about public safety while many Japanese remain unvaccinated have prompted growing protests and calls for cancelling the Olympics, set to start on July 23. Suga’s government has repeatedly expanded the area and duration of a virus state of emergency since late April and has made its virus-fighting measures stricter. But with COVID-19 cases still persistently high, Suga says vaccines are key to getting the infections under control. At the two mass inoculation centers staffed by Japan’s Self-Defense Forces, the aim is to inoculate up to 10,000 people per day in Tokyo and another 5,000 per day in Osaka for the next three months. People inoculated at the centers last month were the first in Japan to receive doses from Moderna Inc., one of two foreign-developed vaccines now approved in Japan. Previously Japan had used only Pfizer Inc. Japan began vaccinating healthcare workers in mid-February while sticking to a standard requirement of clinical testing inside Japan — a decision many experts said was statistically meaningless and only caused delay. Vaccinations for the next group — the elderly, who are more likely to suffer serious COVID-19 effects — started in mid-April but was slowed by bureaucratic bumbling including reservation procedures, unclear distribution plans, and a shortage of medical staff to give shots.

China issues total ban on synthetic cannabinoids

BEIJING (AP) — China last month said it will add all synthetic cannabinoids to its list of banned drugs, in what it described as a first in the world, to curb their manufacturing, trafficking, and abuse. It is the second time Chinese authorities have imposed a class-wide ban on a substance, after all fentanyl-related drugs were controlled in 2019. Synthetic cannabinoids are human-made chemicals that act on the same brain receptors as the main active ingredient in marijuana. However, they can be toxic and cause "serious side effects that are very different from those of marijuana," according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The United States says China is a key source of synthetic drugs which are then shipped to users in the U.S. Chinese officials said 18 other new psychoactive substances will also be banned. The changes take effect July 1. Authorities said 1,047 types of new psychoactive substances had appeared as of the end of 2020, of which about 450 were found in the last five years. Between 2018 and 2020, about 300 cases of what is locally known as "Natasha" synthetic cannabinoids were uncovered in Xinjiang, while more than 300 fluroroketamine cases were found in the southern region of Guangxi, officials said. Last year, Shandong narcotics authorities uncovered the large-scale manufacturing and trafficking of synthetic cannabinoids involving 13 provinces and more than 40 cities, officials said. They said 790 pounds of synthetic cannabinoids were seized. The ban did not specify penalties, but China regularly executes people found guilty in drug cases.

People dying from tainted rice wine despite crackdown

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Twelve more people have died in Cambodia from drinking cheap adulterated rice wine, a perennial problem especially in rural areas, officials said. The Health Ministry said the victims died in two additional deadly incidents after a drinking session at a May 10 funeral in Kandal province took the lives of 12 other people. A court in Kandal has charged 13 people — two producers and 11 vendors — in connection with that incident. They are accused of violating a law against misleading representation leading to death or disability, which is punishable by two to five years imprisonment. Two people in a nearby village who had not attended the funeral also died from drinking tainted wine and 10 others died in a village in the southern province of Kampot, the ministry said in a statement. Fifty-six others were sickened but are recovering. After tests from Kampot showed the deaths were caused by toxic wine, officials went to the affected village and barred further production and consumption of the product. Rice wine is typically made in small batches in homes in the countryside and is popular at events such as weddings, funerals, and village festivals. Alcohol is sometimes added to boost the drink’s potency, but if it is not distilled properly it can contain toxic levels of methanol, which can cause blindness or death. Tests showed that the victims did not have COVID-19, which has surged recently in Cambodia, it said.

Foreigners arrested on Bali for alleged drug possession

DENPASAR, Indonesia (AP) — A British hotel owner and an Italian tourist were arrested for alleged possession of narcotics on Indonesia’s resort island of Bali, according to police. The two men, dressed in orange, were shown to journalists at a news conference. Kenneth Daniel Kutsch, a British man who has a hotel business on neighboring Lombok island, and his Indonesian partner, Ni Ketut Dewi Seniwati, were arrested in the parking lot of a restaurant in Bali in May after residents reported narcotic transactions in the area, police said. Badung police chief Roby Septiadi said officers seized 7.9 ounces of marijuana from Kutsch and his partner. "We are still deepening the investigation. But judging from the evidence, it could lead to him being a dealer," Septiadi said at the news conference. Indonesia has extremely strict drug laws, and convicted dealers are sometimes executed by firing squad. More than 150 people are currently on death row, mostly for drug crimes. About one-third are foreigners.

China reports human case of H10N3 bird flu, a possible first

BEIJING (AP) — A man in eastern China has contracted what might be the world’s first human case of the H10N3 strain of bird flu, but the risk of large-scale spread is low, the government says. The 41-year-old man in Jiangsu province, northwest of Shanghai, was hospitalized April 28 and is in stable condition, the National Health Commission said on its website. No human case of H10N3 has been reported elsewhere, the commission said. "This infection is an accidental cross-species transmission," the statement said. "The risk of large-scale transmission is low." The news comes amid heightened awareness of the threat of emerging diseases as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to claim lives around the world. But unlike with coronaviruses, there are global influenza surveillance systems that watch for human cases of bird flu, since a strain named H5N1 cropped up in the late 1990s in Hong Kong’s crowded live-poultry markets. Between 2013 and 2017, another bird flu named H7N9 infected more than 1,500 people in China through close contact with infected chickens. With that history, authorities aren’t surprised to see occasional human cases of various bird flu strains and they monitor closely for any signs one is spreading between people.

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