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Japan's Rakuten suspends sale of virus test kits due to alleged corporate changes

The coronavirus PCR kit which was suspended from sale on April 30 is seen in this image provided by Rakuten Inc.

TOKYO -- Japan's e-commerce giant Rakuten Inc. announced on April 30 that it is temporarily suspending sales of its polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test kits that detect novel coronavirus infection, after originally going on sale to businesses from April 20.

Although a group of doctors has raised concerns over the use of the test kits, Tokyo-based Rakuten claimed that sales were halted due to corporate changes at the company developing them.

The PCR test kit was devised by genetic test developer Genesis Healthcare Co., also in Tokyo, which Rakuten is a stakeholder in. Rakuten had been acting as the outlet to accept applications to buy the kit at 14,900 yen each. Employees at companies purchasing them were to individually take samples from their throat and nose using a stick-like object. The samples would then be collected and tested by Genesis Healthcare, with test results to be conveyed later.

The Japan Medical Association expressed concerns about the kits in a written statement released on April 24, saying, "There is a risk of spreading infection to those surrounding the test taker when taking a sample." The association also said that if samples are taken incorrectly, test results may also be inaccurate, thereby potentially showing negative results for individuals with the virus, which could then lead to infections spreading in the workplace.

Responding to an inquiry from the Mainichi Shimbun, Rakuten explained, "We decided to start selling the product after confirming that there were no issues with the accuracy of its results. It is not the case that sales were suspended because of concerns from the Japan Medical Association."

Rakuten also said, "It has become necessary for us to scrutinize the corporate structure and compliance system of the genetic test developer, as the company has made changes to its management makeup."

Rakuten said that it is not yet known whether the PCR test kits will be sold again, and commented, "We greatly apologize for the great deal of trouble this sudden change has caused to the various related parties."

A real estate agency in Tokyo ordered over 100 kits, all of which were recalled on the day the products arrived at the company after they were notified that their sale had been suspended. A representative for the company expressed confusion regarding the sudden change, saying, "This is frustrating. The expense taken to prepare and conduct the tests at the company has gone to waste."

(Japanese original by Shinji Kurokawa, City News Department)

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