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Editorial: Japan must step up coronavirus testing

  • April 21, 2020
  • , The Mainichi
  • English Press

It has been difficult for people in Japan to receive polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for the novel coronavirus even when a doctor has deemed such a test necessary. This is an issue that has been raised in the past.


PCR tests hold an important key in preventing the spread of the virus and preventing cases from becoming serious. It is essential to expand testing, and to do this, comprehensive measures are necessary.


In addition to reagents and testing equipment, Japan needs to secure workers to carry out the tests, and establish a system for transporting samples. It needs to prevent infections at testing stations, and protect other patients and medical workers from contracting the virus. Measures to avoid patients with only light virus symptoms from filling up hospital beds are also essential.


The government should have established a system at an early stage to facilitate collaboration between different ministries and agencies on the assumption that the number of cases would increase. The reason that frontline public health centers and specialist clinics have been unable to keep up with the demand for tests is because the government was too slow to do this.


Why haven’t the number of tests been increasing? The fact that the government has not provided a satisfactory answer to this question has added to the confusion.


Amid such circumstances, local medical associations and other such bodies deserve credit for moving to solve the problem. The Tokyo Medical Association, for example, says it will set up PCR testing centers in 47 areas where individuals can be tested for the coronavirus without going through public health centers. People suspected of being infected with the virus can consult with a family doctor over the phone, and if it is deemed necessary, they can receive a test at the PCR testing station.


Some areas, meanwhile, have set up testing stations outside hospitals, or introduced drive-through coronavirus testing. Both these methods hold promise for increasing the number of tests, while preventing the spread of infections. We also hope such steps will enable patients to be divided smoothly between medical facilities and hotels and other facilities that can quarantine them, according to their risk of developing severe symptoms.


We hope to see local medical associations cooperating with local bodies, hospitals and other facilities to formulate methods to deal the situation that meet their various circumstances. The government, meanwhile, should thoroughly boost its regional support through the provision of items to prevent the spread of infections, and other such assistance.


The guidelines for consultations and screenings that the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has presented to date must also be revised. It’s important for people at a high risk of developing severe symptoms, such as the elderly and individuals with pre-existing conditions, to consult their doctor or another medical professional right away without waiting two days as the ministry has suggested, if they show signs such as a fever, heavy weariness or have difficulty breathing.


The testing of medical and care workers must also be carried out speedily to prevent group infections. And if a person around them tests positive for the virus, they should also be tested regardless of whether they have symptoms or not.


We hope to see the speedy establishment of a system under which anyone can be tested if a doctor deems it necessary.

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