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Japan expects to boost daily coronavirus testing capacity to 72,000 by end of Sept.

The building housing the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare is seen in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward. (Mainichi/Kimi Takeuchi)

TOKYO -- The health ministry on Aug. 7 revealed that it expects to raise Japan's coronavirus testing capacity to as high as 72,000 per day by the end of September.

    As of July 10, the demand for tests in 46 prefectures was estimated at a total of 56,000 per day, and a health ministry official said, "Testing capacity as a whole has been boosted. We will review the demand for tests and ask that testing capacity be raised, based on the infection situation."

    The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare in June requested prefectural governments to check the peak demand for tests, their testing capacity, and their sample-collecting capacity, so that people who need a test can get one smoothly. As of July 10, Japan as a whole could continuously conduct about 37,000 tests per day.

    To estimate the demand for tests, each prefecture calculated the potential peak number of coronavirus patients using an outbreak model released by the health ministry in June. Moreover, prefectural governments calculated the required number of coronavirus tests based on the positive test rates in March and April, when infections in Japan surged for the first time. It also added the number of people who could come into close contact with coronavirus patients to the test figures.

    Daily peak demand for screening was estimated at 11,000 tests for Tokyo; 1,800 for Aichi Prefecture in central Japan; 2,700 for Osaka Prefecture in the west; and 960 for the southernmost prefecture of Okinawa. Japan's demand for screening was estimated at 56,000 tests -- not including the southwestern prefecture of Kumamoto, which did not report an estimate, as it continues to tackle the impact of the recent torrential rain disaster, among other reasons.

    However, the testing demand estimate focuses on infected patients and people who would have close contact with them. It does not account for wide regional testing in the event of an infection cluster, nor checks conducted to prevent in-hospital infections, so the number is likely to increase.

    Peak daily testing capacity is expected to reach 11,500 in Tokyo; 4,300 in Kanagawa Prefecture south of the capital; and 4,000 in the western Japan prefecture of Hiroshima. Including some prefectures that will introduce new testing equipment, it is expected that Japan's testing capacity will eventually reach up to 73,000 per day, and up to 72,000 by September's end.

    According to the health ministry, Japan's current testing capacity per day consists of 52,000 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, 26,000 simple antigen test kits and 8,000 antibody level tests. The ministry on Aug. 7 also compiled measures to strengthen the coronavirus testing system, including spreading efforts to conduct tests in various places by dispatching test-conducting vehicles and setting up temporary testing sites. The measures are intended to allow a wide range of people in each region to be tested, not just groups or those in locations where an infection has been confirmed.

    (Japanese original by Sooryeon Kim, Lifestyle and Medical News Department)

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