For weeks Japan has limited its testing for the coronavirus, which emerged in neighbouring China late last year, despite calls from many health experts who see testing as vital to detecting and isolating cases and slowing the spread.
Japan conducted about 52,000 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests in March, or just 16% of the number carried out in South Korea, according to data from Oxford University.
Experts say Japan’s strategy of keeping the number of PCR tests low has made it difficult to trace the disease as it spread in Tokyo and other big cities and led to a wave of in-hospital infections, crippling some facilities.
The decision to expand testing came as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe this week expanded a state of emergency, originally issued for Tokyo and six other areas, to the entire country, and warned of the growing burden on health facilities.
“With help from regional medical associations, we will set up testing centres. If home doctors have decided testing is necessary, test samples are taken at these centres and sent to private inspection firms,” Abe told a news conference on Friday.
“Thus, the burden on public health centres will be lessened.”