Fraud suspected among coronavirus testing firms in 6 prefectures

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
People are seen at a free testing facility in Tokyo that is not under suspicion of fraud.

Six prefectures have revoked the registrations of organizations offering free coronavirus testing under a government-funded program or issued administrative guidance on suspicion of wrongdoing, according to a Yomiuri Shimbun survey.

The project has received a huge amount of state funding but is being implemented without sufficient attention, the survey has revealed.

People who think they might be infected with the coronavirus can get tested for free under the scheme, which started in December. The project is administered by prefectural governments, and there are about 13,000 testing sites nationwide.

Organizations that conduct the tests receive subsidies of up to ¥9,500 per PCR test and ¥4,000 per antigen test.

In September, The Yomiuri Shimbun asked 47 prefectures to disclose the number of cases in which testing organizations had been punished or given administrative instructions. Miyagi Prefecture did not respond to the question.

Fukushima, Saitama and Kanagawa said they had revoked the registrations of testing organizations. The three prefectures had registered a Tokyo-based clinic as a testing operator in March and April, but the clinic had ceased operating in July last year.

The registration was revoked between April and July after it was learned that the clinic’s name was being used without permission. The case was revealed after a former director of the clinic reported the matter to authorities.

Only medical institutions, pharmacies and sanitary inspection centers are eligible to conduct free testing under the project.

The three prefectures failed to detect the fraud because they did not require the submission of official supporting documentation during the screening process at the time of registration.

According to the survey, only 26 prefectures checked official documentation for all prospective organizations. The remaining prefectures either did not verify the submitted documents or conducted verification for a limited number of organizations.

The survey found that Osaka, Hyogo and Okinawa prefectures had issued administrative guidance to 17 operators on suspicion of wrongdoing.

In Osaka Prefecture, some people were encouraged to take both PCR and antigen tests at the same time, enabling the operator to receive double subsidies.

The central government earmarked ¥320 billion for the free testing program.