A public health center in the city of Niigata has launched one of Japan’s first drive-thru clinics to test for COVID-19 amid growing demand for tests of the deadly virus.

The drive-thru clinic, which was launched this month and comes after South Korea won plaudits for similar facilities, bypasses the usual lengthy process of having patients first visit doctors for individual checkups to get local health center approval for tests, significantly cutting down on the time required.

The Niigata City Health Services Division confirmed the launch of the drive-thru clinic, but did not reveal if there were multiple facilities or locations, likely due to privacy concerns.

The news comes despite a seemingly vacillating health ministry policy on drive-thru facilities.

On Sunday, the ministry used its official Twitter account to explain the rationale behind Japan not deploying drive-thru stations as a tool to stop the spread of the virus.

“To do a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test, a medical checkup with a doctor is important,” the ministry said. “Drive-thru clinics are often not accompanied by doctors, meaning the facilities could possibly spread the virus by misjudging symptoms. Therefore, we are not putting such clinics into practice in Japan.”

Health minister Katsunobu Kato, however, appeared to backtrack on this stance just two days later when he told the Lower House’s Committee on Health, Labor and Welfare that drive-thru clinics could be acceptable in some cases.

“If alternative ways to test patients can be arranged, with enough consideration to avoid the possible spread of the virus, (drive-thru testing) should be acceptable,” Kato said.

According to NHK, the Niigata City Public Health Center’s drive-thru clinic collected samples required for PCR tests from patients on Wednesday. The checkups generally take about one minute. On Wednesday morning a doctor in protective gear with a surgical mask and goggles was seen collecting samples through the windows of about 10 cars with what appeared to be a cotton swab, NHK reported.

According to the health center, the drive-thru clinic is open to those without symptoms but who have been in close contact with coronavirus patients. The clinic can collect up to 30 samples per day.

Separately, a drive-thru-style clinic was also deployed Thursday for around 50 workers from several welfare facilities in Nagoya where infections have been confirmed, Kyodo News reported. According to the city, the workers have not developed any symptoms and have been staying at home.

As of Wednesday, some 22 people have tested positive for the virus in Niigata Prefecture, while Aichi Prefecture has registered 128 cases.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.