Foreign residents in Japan are considering traveling for vaccines amid a slow spike in inoculation

A syringe with a dose of the coronavirus vaccine (COVID-19) is displayed at the Tokyo Metropolitan Hospital for Infectious Diseases and Cancer in Tokyo, Japan, March 5, 2021. Yoshikazu Tsuno / Pool via REUTERS

The momentum of the COVID-19 glacial vaccination in Japan is leading some foreign residents to consider flying to other countries to get vaccinated, as the pandemic increases again with no vaccines in sight for ordinary people.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga negotiated with the CEO of Pfizer Inc on Saturday to secure more doses of vaccine, which should now be sufficient for all residents by September. This is long 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 until winter or longer for the majority of the general population to have access to vaccines.

It is unclear how many foreigners are flying out of Japan to take pictures, but it is a hot topic on social media and business circles.

“I can confirm that I heard about executives going to their home countries to vaccinate,” said Michael Mroczek, president of the European Business Council in Japan, adding that the number of people who do this is limited due to the need for quarantine when traveling from back to Japan.

Marc Wesseling is a long-time foreign resident who couldn’t wait any longer. The co-founder of an advertising agency in Tokyo flew this month to Singapore, where his company has an office, in part to take pictures and safely visit his parents in the Netherlands.

“I love the country and I wish them all the best,” said Wesseling of Japan from its quarantine in Singapore. “They’re not the fastest. I think a lot of people get frustrated, especially when you want to have the Olympics and everything. Come on, guys. Make it happen. The whole world is doing this. Why wait?”

Japan vaccinated about 1% of its population, compared with 2.9% in South Korea, which started later, and at least 40% in the United States and Britain, according to a Reuters tracker.

The Maldives will soon offer vaccinations to visitors as part of a “visit, vaccination and vacation” campaign, the Minister of Tourism of the popular Indian Ocean destination told CNBC last week.

Japan prevents tourists from entering the country and it is not easy for residents to get vaccinated abroad and return. A two-dose regimen would take at least a few weeks, usually longer, and Japan operates a two-week quarantine for people arriving in the country, even if they have been vaccinated.

“If you would like to return to your country for a vaccination, 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 can consider which one is safer for your health.”

Representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Japan’s immigration service did not immediately respond with comments.

Japan’s leading health experts say the COVID-19 pandemic has entered a fourth wave.

Quasi-emergency measures were imposed in 10 prefectures and the western metropolis of Osaka requested a full emergency declaration on Tuesday amid a recovery in cases caused by mutant variants of the virus. Tokyo may follow through on the end of the week with a similar request, local media said.

Lauren Jubelt thought about returning home to Florida to take the photos, but ended up deciding that there was no point in running the risk of being stranded abroad if Japan closed its borders.

“I get frustrated when I see my family in the United States getting the vaccine,” said Jubelt, who works in digital marketing in Osaka.

“We don’t even have a solid date for when we can get it here and cases are on the rise again.”

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