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INTERVIEW: Japan’s new health minister eyeing virus test expansion

  • September 19, 2020
  • , Jiji Press , 10:00 a.m.
  • English Press

Tokyo, Sept. 19 (Jiji Press)–To prepare for a possible influenza outbreak in autumn or winter amid the novel coronavirus epidemic, the Japanese government will beef up the testing system for the virus now crippling the nation in close cooperation with prefectural governments, new Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Norihisa Tamura has said.

 

While the Japanese government is asking private companies to redouble efforts so that about 200,000 coronavirus tests are conducted a day, including using antigen test kits, during the peak of infections, Tamura said in an interview on Friday.

 

His ministry will “communicate with prefectural governments to ensure” that measures are taken to make the testing system ready, such as separating routes for apparently infected people at testing locations and providing protection to staff involved.

 

On new Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s plan to have fertility treatment covered by public health insurance programs, Tamura said that the tackling the sluggish birthrate is “an urgent theme” to keep Japan vibrant and support the nation’s social security system.

 

Tamura said he was instructed by Suga to advance work on the issue of health insurance coverage for fertility treatment to help people have children.

 

While noting that the prime minister hopes to start such coverage as soon as possible, Tamura said it will take some time because the safety and effectiveness of fertility treatment need to be confirmed.

 

In the meantime, the health ministry will increase support for fertility treatment by expanding an existing financial aid program, he said.

 

On the possibility of doubling from 10 pct the share of out-of-pocket medical expenses of people aged 75 or over with certain levels of income, Tamura said a relevant government panel will likely show “a certain direction” about the income threshold late this year

 

Tamura also said that uncertain factors should be considered in the discussions, noting that the coronavirus crisis has led to changes in patients’ behavior related to seeking medical treatment and in the situation at medical institutions.

 

He said that the government needs to study ways to secure funds to keep Japan’s health insurance system sustainable in the medium to long term because increasing the share of the elderly people’s medical cost burden to 20 pct alone will not be enough.

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