Results of Self-paid PCR Tests should be Shared with Govt

It is important to revise the system so that local governments can grasp positive test results and utilize them for infection measures.

PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests for the novel coronavirus that people can take at any time at their own expense are spreading. Private companies and clinics have begun providing the service one after another, and some of them are offering PCR tests for about ¥2,000 apiece.

Many of them use test kits and only require a saliva sample. The kits can also be sent by mail.

Publicly funded administrative tests only cover people exhibiting symptoms and those who have been in close contact with infected people. It is understandable that an increasing number of individuals and corporations are applying for self-funded tests as a self-protection measure, as there is no sign of infections abating.

The problem is what to do when they test positive. In many cases, the self-funded tests conducted by private companies do not involve doctors, and there is no obligation to report to the public health center even if an infection is found. There is a risk that local governments will not be able to identify infected people and take countermeasures.

There have been instances of people becoming seriously ill because they delayed seeking treatment at medical institutions, and cases where infection clusters have already formed by the time public health centers learned of individual infections. Generally, only asymptomatic people take the self-paid tests, so some people lose contact with the public health center after testing positive.

The government plans to revise the Infectious Diseases Law to allow it to instruct private companies that conduct self-paid tests to cooperate with medical institutions. If they do not comply, the government is considering announcing the companies’ names.

The private companies should immediately find medical institutions to collaborate with. It is necessary to ensure that the information on those who test positive is conveyed to public health centers so that appropriate measures such as isolation and treatment can be taken to contain infections.

The clinics that accept self-funded tests from all over Japan are concentrated in Tokyo. The burden on staff at public health centers in Tokyo is increasing as clinics have to report to their local public health centers even when those who test positive live outside of Tokyo. Such an issue must be resolved.

The PCR test still carries the risk of resulting in a “false negative,” which is a negative result when the person is actually infected. Even if the results are negative, people are advised to refrain from going out without wearing a mask or having dinner with a large group of people.

The Hiroshima prefectural government plans to expand the scope of public testing and conduct PCR tests on the scale of 800,000 people in early February. It said the aim is to identify asymptomatic infected people and stop the spread.

On the other hand, some local governments are beginning to find it difficult to conduct sufficient tests due to the heavy workload at public health centers as the infection spreads. In these areas, self-funded tests are supplementing government administration.

The government should clarify the significance and division of roles between government tests and self-paid tests, and work to alleviate the public’s concerns.