On June 16, the House of Councillors committee on health, labour and welfare discussed the issue of people returning from countries with an ongoing new coronavirus outbreak. The discussion included mention of several cases in the Chubu area where returnees took a PCR test at an airport quarantine station, but were confirmed to be positive after they returned home.
The Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW) allows people who do not show any symptoms and do not plan to use public transportation to go home before their test results are confirmed. During May 2020, 12 out of 44 people who tested positive at an airport quarantine station were residents of Aichi Prefecture. All of them were confirmed to be infected after they returned to the prefecture. In Gifu Prefecture, one person was confirmed positive after returning home by car. The passenger in the car with the returnee was also confirmed to be positive as a result of secondary infection.
Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan lawmaker Maiko Tajima said during the committee meeting that people should be wary of “the risk of secondary infection” and pointed to the necessity of having returnees remain at the airport until test results are confirmed. The MHLW official said there was no problem with the current procedure. The official said that the procedure “is aimed at reducing the psychological stress of returnees” and that MHLW explains to returnees that they should “avoid contact with others after returning home.”
In response to Tajima who asked about the availability of multilingual sources during quarantine, the MHLW official said “quarantine officers can speak English” and that phone translators are available in 18 languages and translation tablets are available for 10 languages. The MHLW official admitted that some local governments have difficulty with multilingual situations, and that there are cases where communication has been an issue between local governments and foreign nationals whose test results were confirmed positive after they returned to their homes in Japan.
A local government in the Chubu area had difficulty in communicating the fact that a foreign national who returned home from the airport had tested positive, which, as a result, delayed the hospitalization of the foreign national. The local government official in charge expressed doubt about whether the explanation given at the airport quarantine station is conveyed properly, commenting that a translation machine cannot translate technical terms like “PCR test.”
According to the MHLW, translation tablets are available at the quarantine stations of Narita, Haneda, and Kansai airports. There are three tablets at Chubu airport, where international flights resume on June 17.