In sweeping pandemic policy bundle, free testing signals attitude change in Japan

Japan Times -- Nov 13
The inclusion of free virus tests was largely overlooked in the sweeping coronavirus policy package Prime Minister Fumio Kishida rolled out Friday morning.

And yet, after nearly two years of criticism that Japan isn’t testing enough people, it was a subtle but strong sign of a shift in the country’s attitude toward proactive countermeasures and the long-term implications of the pandemic.

Kishida announced Friday that, while new cases are rising, individuals who can’t be vaccinated for health reasons and who don’t have symptoms but are concerned they have been infected can receive a PCR or antigen test before taking part in certain economic or social activities.

The plan is part of a greater effort to prepare the country for a sixth wave of the pandemic — and whatever comes afterwards — by bolstering hospitals, procuring more medical staff, expanding its vaccine campaign, administering booster shots and advancing the treatment of those with COVID-19.

“While new cases have declined substantially, it’s important to acknowledge the strong possibility that the virus will return and to prepare accordingly,” Kishida said Friday.

It’s not exactly clear who will be eligible and under what circumstances, but Kishida said Friday that the decision will be left to local governments, who have been directed to execute the plan at the latest by the end of March 2022.