Japan revises criteria for coronavirus test

Japan's health ministry has revised its criteria for coronavirus testing. Experts had been concerned that the old standards were too stringent and were resulting in a low number of tests.

In Japan, people who believe they may have been infected with the coronavirus are told to contact a local public health center. There, a doctor determines whether a test is necessary.

The old criteria recommended that only people with a fever of 37.5 degrees Celsius or higher persisting for four days should contact a health center. Experts said that a specific temperature should not be the sole factor determining whether someone should seek medical assistance.

The new standards do not indicate a specific temperature. Instead, they say people "who have difficulty breathing, serious fatigue, or high fever" and "who are coughing, have a fever and other mild cold symptoms for four days or longer" should seek help.

The guidelines also note that symptoms may differ among individuals and that people with severe symptoms should seek immediate assistance.

Koike Yuriko

Tokyo Governor Koike Yuriko welcomed the changes, saying they would make it easier for people to get tested and help authorities maximize testing capacity.

The health ministry says it has the capacity to carry out more than 17,000 tests per day. But the number it actually carries out is far fewer, at around 9,000 per day.

The government's expert panel suggests that "overwork of local public health centers" and the "shortage of masks and protective clothing used for tests" may be others reasons for the low number of tests. The panel says the government must strengthen the country's health center system and provide adequate protective equipment.

But Nishimura Hidekazu, the director of the Virus Research Center at Sendai Medical Center, says the new criteria will nonetheless be helpful.

"The new standards will prevent doctors from overlooking patients with pneumonia that isn't severe but could become so," Nishimura says.

He adds, "There is a risk that there won't be enough tests, especially in urban areas such as Tokyo, where the number of infected people is high. This means it is more necessary than ever before to correctly determine which patients are in the most need of tests."