The following is the latest list of selected news summaries by Kyodo News.


Japan to set up $4.4 billion "vaccine fund" under economic package

TOKYO - Japan plans to set up a 500 billion yen ($4.4 billion) fund aimed at supporting firms developing vaccines for infectious diseases and new drugs, under the first economic package to be drawn up since Prime Minister Fumio Kishida took office last week, government sources said Wednesday.

Kishida has vowed to strengthen the government's coronavirus response, as well as Japan's science and technology. The idea of the fund came as Japanese companies have lagged behind foreign rivals in the development of COVID-19 vaccines and the country has had to rely on foreign doses.


Record 196,000 students absent from school in Japan in FY 2020

TOKYO - A record 196,127 students at elementary and junior high schools across Japan were absent for 30 days or more in fiscal 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic, an increase of 14,855 from the previous year, government data showed Wednesday.

Meanwhile, cases of bullying recognized by all schools, also including high schools and those for students with special needs, fell by 95,333 in the year through March to 517,163, marking the first decline since fiscal 2013, according to the results of an education ministry survey.


Japan average gasoline price rises to 7-yr high

TOKYO - The average retail gasoline price in Japan climbed to its highest level in seven years earlier this week, reflecting a recent global surge in crude oil prices, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said Wednesday.

The average price for regular gasoline stood at 162.10 yen ($1.4) per liter as of Monday, advancing 2.10 yen from Oct. 4 and hitting its highest level since October 2014, according to the ministry.


Global public debt remains at record-high levels in 2021: IMF

WASHINGTON - Global public debt is estimated to stand at 97.8 percent of the world's gross domestic product in 2021, 0.8 percentage point lower than a year before but still at record-high levels on the back of a massive fiscal response in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the International Monetary Fund said Wednesday.

Japan, whose fiscal health is already the worst among major industrialized economies, is expected to see its government debt-to-GDP ratio come to 256.9 percent this year, up 2.8 points from a year earlier, before declining to 251.9 percent in 2026.


Honda unveils new small business plane for nonstop long haul flights

NEW YORK - The aircraft manufacturing unit of Honda Motor Co. unveiled Tuesday a concept for a new HondaJet small business aircraft with an increased passenger capacity and an ability to complete transcontinental flights across the United States.

A mock-up of the "HondaJet 2600 Concept" by Honda Aircraft Co. was displayed at an annual trade show in Las Vegas to gauge customer reaction and gain an understanding of potential market demand, according to a press release.


U.S., Japan, Australia, India begin joint naval drill amid China rise

WASHINGTON - The naval forces of the United States, Japan, Australia and India have started a joint exercise, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Tuesday, in the face of China's maritime assertiveness in the region.

The four nations, known as the "Quad," will hold the Malabar exercise until Thursday in the Bay of Bengal in the northeastern Indian Ocean, according to Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force.


China to test Wuhan residents' blood samples for virus clues: CNN

DALIAN, China - China is preparing to test tens of thousands of blood samples collected from Wuhan residents as part of efforts to look into the origins of the pandemic-causing coronavirus, CNN reported Wednesday Beijing time, citing a Chinese official.

In a report, an international team of investigators from the World Health Organization who visited the central Chinese city in January and February has called for looking into whether blood bank samples collected during the initial period of the outbreak contain antibodies to the virus.


Afghan evacuees in S. Korea discuss life, future in new country

JINCHEON, South Korea - A group of Afghans, including adults and children, who were evacuated from Afghanistan in August, discussed their new life in South Korea on Wednesday, expressing their determination to settle in a new country thousands of kilometers from home.

They are part of the 391 Afghans evacuated to South Korea in the so-called Operation Miracle in the frantic days following the Taliban takeover of the war-torn country. The Afghans include those who worked at South Korea's embassy in Kabul and their family members.