Nikkei Asian Review: Japan asks Italy, Greece and others to take ‘vaccine passports’

The Japanese government will expand the number of countries it is asking to ease entry restrictions for holders of its COVID-19 vaccination certificates as it seeks to make its “vaccine passport” a convenient travel document for its residents.

The outcome of the negotiations remains unclear, however, as Tokyo is unlikely to ease its own border controls for vaccinated foreign travelers due to rising numbers of COVID-19 infections in Tokyo, raising questions over the fairness of the proposed agreement.

Tokyo, which plans to accept applications for such documents starting July 26, will lobby a dozen countries, including Italy and Greece, to waive quarantines and other restrictions for Japanese holders of vaccine passports.

The government will negotiate with countries that currently offer some entry privileges to those who can prove that they have been vaccinated. Those countries are mainly in Europe, and include France, Estonia, and Iceland. China and the U.S. are not on the list for now.

Countries that waive restrictions for vaccine passport holders will be announced on the Japanese Foreign Ministry’s website.

Under the diplomatic principle of reciprocity, countries typically impose or lift entry measures together. The Japanese government had been considering easing entry restrictions for vaccinated travelers from abroad in conjunction with the issuance of Japan’s vaccine passport, but the COVID-19 caseload in Tokyo worsened and the government declared a state of emergency for the capital for the fourth time on Monday, scotching the plan.

The government is also concerned about the highly infectious delta variant first discovered in India. Authorities believe they cannot loosen border control measures for the time being. The Japanese side will thus be seeking what amounts to preferential treatment, and some of its negotiating partners may reject this on equity grounds.

The certificate will be issued in paper form for the time being. It will include the type of vaccine; the date and time of vaccination and the holder’s passport number, name, and date of birth. English descriptions are included in the document.

The municipality where the holder’s certificate of residence was issued at the time of the vaccination will be responsible for handling applications for vaccine passports. Applications are free of charge and the certificates may be issued on the same day.

To receive a vaccine certificate, applicants must submit the application form and their passport. In addition to the vaccination coupon distributed by local governments, the municipality will also ask residents to present proof of vaccination, as arranged either by the local government or the workplace.

The municipality will ask for a copy of applicants’ residence certificate showing their “My Number” identification number if the applicant has lost his or her vaccination coupon. If the vaccination certificate or vaccination record is lost, a copy of the pre-examination form can be substituted. The application and required documents can be submitted in person or by mail.