Will digital vaccination certificates be a shot in the arm for intl travel?

The introduction of digital certificates to show one’s record of vaccination against the novel coronavirus has been spreading, mainly in Western countries.

While hopes are high for such a certificate system to be used to resume cross-border travel, consideration for people who have not been vaccinated is also likely to be called for.

The European Union plans to introduce vaccine certificates by summer to facilitate free movement within the bloc.

The system is said to enable certificates of vaccinations and PCR test results to be saved on smartphones and other devices and checked at immigration control. Some countries are considering exempting travelers who have cleared the checks from undergoing testing and quarantine.

As the flow of people has been strictly restricted among EU member states amid the pandemic, countries relying heavily on tourism, such as Greece, have strongly urged the EU to introduce such a certificate scheme as soon as possible. With the summer tourist season approaching, these countries evidently aim at revitalizing their economies, while preventing the spread of the virus.

Britain is also considering introducing a vaccine certificate system with an eye to gradually lifting a ban on its people traveling overseas.

There is no sign of the pandemic being brought under control anytime soon. Vaccine certificates would surely be effective in easing travel restrictions in a safe and smooth manner.

However, it should not be forgotten that vaccinations are voluntary. Many people refrain from taking the shots for various reasons, such as allergies and concerns about side effects. A number of countries have also put off inoculating young people as they are regarded as having a low risk of developing serious COVID-19 symptoms.

Measures are needed to prevent people who have not been vaccinated from suffering major disadvantages. A system should remain in place to allow the unvaccinated to enter countries through procedures such as presenting negative PCR test certificates, even after vaccine certificates have become commonplace.

In particular, the use of such certificates to remove restrictions on participating in events and activities in one’s own country could lead to discrimination and friction against those who have not been inoculated. Careful discussions are essential.

Regarding the domestic use of vaccine certificates, the EU leaves decisions to the discretion of each member state. In the United States, there has been a split between states actively using certificates and those opposing the introduction of the certificates, arguing that they infringe upon personal freedoms.

People who have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose account for about 50% of the total population in Britain, about 40% in the United States and about 20% in the EU region, while Japan lags far behind. The pressing task for Japan is carrying out its vaccination program more quickly rather than introducing vaccine certificates.

However, if Japan is left behind in this international trend, it could raise a barrier for travelers from Japan to destinations abroad. The Japanese government must put the digitization of inoculation records on track in case travelers are asked to present vaccine certificates in the future.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on April 30, 2021.