Please view the main text area of the page by skipping the main menu.

Demand rises in Japan for virus tests to use negative diagnosis as business trip 'pass'

Hiroyuki Iuchi, the head of Nihonbashi Reiwa internist clinic, is seen explaining how the clinic uses saliva samples, on Aug. 14, 2020, in Tokyo. (Mainichi/Nobuyuki Shimada)

TOKYO -- Demand for polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests in Japan to confirm that people are not infected with the coronavirus and to provide proof of a negative diagnosis is rising.

    Receiving the tests is considered private medical use that does not fall under care covered by medical insurance, and a single one can cost somewhere between 20,000 and 40,000 yen (between around $188 and $376). But despite the price, their use is increasing among businesspeople traveling abroad and others.

    However, issues have also arisen around false-negative results certifying people as not being infected with the coronavirus when they actually are, and a number of medical professionals have also been critical of the rise in negative certifications.

    Since it started offering PCR tests from saliva samples on July 11, the Nihonbashi Reiwa internist clinic situated near Tokyo Station in the capital's Chuo Ward has seen a deluge of requests such as "Please do PCR tests on our employees," to, "Would you be able to issue a certificate for a negative test?"

    The clinic only works with saliva samples, and sends them to a testing company it has a contract with. Patients who have a fever or other symptoms which suggest they may be infected with the coronavirus are eligible to use their health insurance for the test, and public financial aid makes the tests free. But the clinic charges 27,000 yen for tests to prove negative diagnosis, as they are not eligible for funding under health insurance.

    Results come the following day, and are conveyed via an app. Because the clinic cannot guarantee a negative result with 100% certainty, it warns the patient not to neglect their own infection prevention activities.

    The month and a half leading up to the end of August saw the clinic process around 1,000 tests. A large part of them were requested by businesses, and reportedly there have been several cases in which results came back positive. There was also an instance in which a company saw one of their workers test positive, but was told by a public health center that there were "no people the infected person had close contact with." Nevertheless, as a precaution, the firm opted to have a dozen-plus employees working on the same floor as the infected person tested all at once.

    The head of the clinic, Hiroyuki Iuchi, 36, told the Mainichi Shimbun, "There's a growing feeling that people want peace of mind, even if it costs. There have been cases of companies and hospitals outside the capital asking people coming from Tokyo to produce proof they aren't infected, and among people who have had the test there are some referring to them as a 'pass.'"

    There has been a rise, particularly in cities, of medical facilities offering proof of negative test results, and in the background to this increase has been an improvement in provisions at private testing companies.

    According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, around 700,000 PCR tests were administered across the country in August, a huge rise from the 220,000 completed in April. Private testing companies accounted for around 20% of the total in April, but by August this had climbed to over 50%.

    Testing firm SRL Inc., based in the capital's Shinjuku Ward, began in May to use fully automatic PCR testing equipment from Switzerland, and its initial ability to administer 1,000 tests a day has been boosted to 5,600 a day. Its parent company said, "Tests for medical purposes are given priority, but we do also accept some tests not covered by health insurance. We intend to have the capacity to complete 10,000 tests a day in October."

    (Japanese original by Nobuyuki Shimada, City News Department)

    Also in The Mainichi

    The Mainichi on social media