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Editorial: Expansion of PCR testing will help put brakes on spread of infections

  • August 1, 2020
  • , The Japan News , 1:09 p.m.
  • English Press

The number of newly detected novel coronavirus cases in Japan has remained at a level of over 1,000 a day. The scope of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing should be urgently expanded to prevent the further spread of the virus.


PCR testing detects the presence of the virus in nasal mucus or saliva. It is an important tool for the government to assess the status of the infection and formulate countermeasures.


When the infection began to spread, people became increasingly anxious because the tests could not keep up with the spread of the infections. Currently, the testing capacity has been increased to about 35,000 cases a day, but it is still considered not sufficient.


It is hoped that the testing system will be strengthened as much as possible so that those who need the test can take it smoothly.


Observers have said that there are many obstacles to the smooth implementation of the tests, such as a shortage of personnel to deal with the tests at public health centers. The government should solve the problems one by one by helping hospitals and testing laboratories introduce the latest equipment and increasing the number of laboratory technicians.


The scope of testing, which had been limited to those with symptoms, has now been expanded to include people who have shown no symptoms but had close contact with infected people. As the number of people whose route of infection is unknown is also increasing, it is vital that the scope of testing be further expanded to include more people and that aggressive testing be undertaken.


The Tokyo metropolitan government has started group testing of people involved in businesses in nighttime entertainment districts that involve close contact with customers. The Saitama prefectural government has decided to test all people who were in the same place if someone is confirmed infected in a school or a shop, not just those who were in close contact with infected people, to nip clusters in the bud.


Possible measures include that all employees and residents or patients of hospitals and elderly care facilities where infected people are found will be tested.


Also, in places where there is a high concentration of infected people, such as downtown areas, mass tests will be carried out on the residents of those areas.


If infected people are quarantined at an early stage through aggressive testing, the chain of infection can be broken. Dispatching testing vehicles to sites that require intensive testing, such as those where mass infections are occurring, is likely a good idea.


The Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry has requested support from the government to make it easier for employees of small and medium-sized companies to undergo testing. The aim is said to be to reduce the risk of infection among those with domestic and foreign business partners. More testing would also help boost economic activity.


Obviously, equipment and personnel are limited, and it is practically impossible to cover everyone who wishes to be tested.


Therefore, the government should develop an effective testing strategy, including a combination of simple, quick-result antigen tests and PCR tests.


It is important to explain the situation, including the current status of infections and how the government plans to deal with it, to the public in an easy-to-understand manner, ask for their cooperation, and do everything possible to alleviate their concerns.


— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Aug. 1, 2020.

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