As the pandemic surges again with no shots in sight for most, Japan’s snail’s pace Covid-19 inoculation drive is prompting some foreign residents to consider flying to other countries to get vaccinated.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga negotiated with the CEO of Pfizer on Saturday to secure more vaccine doses, now expected to be enough for all residents by September, but that’s well after the scheduled start of the Tokyo Olympics and far behind the pace of most major economies.
Japan only started vaccinating its sizable elderly population this month and health experts say it may take till winter or longer for most of the general population to get access to the shots.
In total, Japan has vaccinated about 1% of its population, compared with nearly 3% in South Korea, which started later, and at least 40% in both the US and Britain, according to a Reuters tracker.
It’s unclear how many foreigners are flying out of Japan to get their jabs but it is a hot topic on social media and in business circles.
“I can confirm having heard of executives going to their home countries for vaccines,” said Michael Mroczek, president of the European Business Council in Japan, adding the number doing so is limited because of the need to quarantine when arriving back in Japan.
Japan bars tourists from entering the country, and it’s no easy matter for residents to get vaccinated overseas and come back.
A two-dose regimen would take at least a couple of weeks, often longer, and Japan operates a two-week quarantine for people coming into the country, even if they have been vaccinated.
“If you would like to go back to your home country for inoculation, that’s fine with us,” Japan’s vaccine chief Taro Kono said on Friday. “Some countries have a higher rate of Covid-19, so you could consider which is safer for your health.”
Japan’s top health experts say the Covid-19 pandemic has entered a fourth wave.
Quasi-emergency measures have been imposed in 10 prefectures and the western metropolis of Osaka requested a full emergency declaration on Tuesday amid a rebound in cases driven by mutant variants of the virus. Tokyo may follow later in the week with a similar request, local media said.
American Lauren Jubelt, who works in digital marketing in Osaka, thought about going home to Florida to get her shots, but ultimately decided it wasn’t worth the risk of perhaps getting trapped overseas if Japan shuts its borders.
“I’m frustrated when I see my family in the US get their vaccine,” she said.
“We don’t even have a solid date when we can get it here and cases are on the rise again.”