Japan is considering issuing certificates to those who have been inoculated against the coronavirus, the minister in charge of vaccinations said Monday, as calls grow overseas for systems to ensure people can travel safely again. It’s a turnaround from last month, when Taro Kono appeared to shoot down the idea.

If “vaccine passports” do materialize, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will be halfway to eligibility from Tuesday, when he is set to receive his first shot of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine ahead of a visit to the United States next month.

On Friday, the health ministry said that a man who arrived in Japan from the Philippines in February was infected with a new variant of the coronavirus, in the first confirmation of such a case. The Philippine variant is distinct from those first discovered in Britain, South Africa and Brazil, and it may be more resistant to neutralizing antibodies gained through vaccination.

Medical workers receive COVID-19 vaccines at a hospital in Kyoto on Tuesday. | KYODO
Medical workers receive COVID-19 vaccines at a hospital in Kyoto on Tuesday. | KYODO

The same day, sources said that drugmakers Merck and AstraZeneca are planning to launch clinical trials in Japan this month for drugs to treat COVID-19. Expectations are high that the drugs can be effective treatments for the disease.

As well as being more than a year behind global rivals in developing COVID-19 vaccines, Japanese drugmakers are scrambling to catch up with international competitors in their search for brand new medicines for the disease, reports Osamu Tsukimori. Instead of coming up with new drugs, Japan has largely been repurposing old medication for use against COVID-19.

Monday’s (and last Monday’s) new COVID-19 cases by prefecture (20 or over): Tokyo 175 (116), Chiba 76 (73), Saitama 72 (65), Osaka 67 (38), Kanagawa 55 (59), Hokkaido 54 (63), Hyogo 33 (41), Miyagi 20 (29). Source: Japan COVID-19 Coronavirus Tracker