The development of a vaccine to prevent people from being infected with the novel coronavirus is unlikely to be completed by the end of this year, the head of a Japanese government panel of experts on the virus said Wednesday.

While governments and companies around the world are working to develop vaccines to contain the pandemic, Takaji Wakita said it will be vital to ensure their efficacy and safety, as well as to ascertain whether they have side effects.

"I think (development) will go beyond the year end, and it is difficult to predict at this moment how soon a vaccine will become available," said Wakita, director of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, at a parliamentary session.

(Takaji Wakita, chair of a government panel on the new coronavirus and head of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, speaks during a House of Representatives budget committee session in Tokyo on May 20, 2020.)

"I'm not sure which party -- if it's Japan or other countries -- will reach the goal first," he said.

As of Wednesday, the virus had infected over 4.8 million people worldwide and claimed more than 320,000 lives, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

As for the coronavirus epidemic in Japan, Shigeru Omi, chairman of a government advisory committee on COVID-19, warned that even if Tokyo and seven other prefectures lift a state of emergency over the coronavirus, people should think of the infection as still continuing even though it is not visible.

The government is considering lifting the emergency in Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo, all in western Japan, among the eight prefectures later this week, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will make a final decision on Thursday.

Omi said domestic infections appear to be subsiding, but warned, "It is highly possible that (infections) can flare up again (in Japan) before winter arrives."

(Supplied electron micrograph shows the new pneumonia-causing coronavirus.)
[Photo courtesy of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases]

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