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COVID vaccines

Italy, Turkey and 3 others say yes to Japan's vaccine passport

South Korea also eases quarantine rules for travelers with proof of COVID-19 shot

Japan's passports will at first be in paper form, but a digital format may be adopted later.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Five countries including Italy and Turkey will start accepting Japanese vaccine passports, Japan's government announced Wednesday.

Countries on the list, which also includes Austria, Bulgaria and Poland, will waive quarantines and other entry restrictions for travelers carrying a Japanese certificate of vaccination. Streamlining the entry process is expected to promote greater travel, including for business purposes.

In addition to the five countries, South Korea will accept the certificate as one of the necessary documents travelers can submit to be exempt from quarantine. Estonia will also recognize it, though the country currently does not require travelers to quarantine, regardless of their vaccination status.

Japanese residents will be able to start applying for an official coronavirus vaccine certificate starting Monday at the municipalities where they lived at the time of vaccination. They will need to present a record of their shots and passports, among other documents.

The certificates will show the recipients' names, birthdays, passport numbers, and the date and type of vaccines in Japanese and in English. They will initially be distributed physically, although the government is considering an app-based electronic version as well.

Each municipality is in charge of handling the process on its own. The city of Shizuoka will only take applications through mail. Tokyo's Minato Ward will take them online or by mail, but will allow in-person applications for emergencies.

Japan's Foreign Ministry has lobbied about a dozen countries to accept its vaccine certificates. But many countries like the U.S., China and the U.K. are not easing entry restrictions, even for travelers who can show proof of vaccination. For example, the U.K. requires travelers from Japan to get tested and to self-isolate.

Some, like France, also refused to grant waivers unless Japan gave reciprocal consideration to their vaccinated travelers.

Japan so far has not considered using vaccine certificates for domestic travel. An expert on the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy at a Wednesday meeting suggested that the government weigh this option to accelerate Japan's economic recovery from the pandemic.

The government looks to ease restrictions on economic activity even without official vaccine certificates, as long as those who receive a shot have physical records they can provide. But it is wary of the widespread use of such documents at home, worried they could stoke discrimination against those who choose not to receive a shot or are unable to get it.

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