To prepare for a possible influenza outbreak in autumn or winter alongside the coronavirus pandemic, the Japanese government will beef up its testing system for COVID-19 in close cooperation with prefectural governments, new Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Norihisa Tamura has said.

The government is asking private companies to redouble efforts so that about 200,000 coronavirus tests can be conducted daily, including using antigen test kits, Tamura said in an interview on Friday.

His ministry will “communicate with prefectural governments to ensure” that measures are taken to prepare the testing system, such as separating people at testing locations who may be infected and providing protection to staff members at the facilities.

On new Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s plan to have fertility treatment covered by public health insurance programs, Tamura said that tackling the sluggish birthrate is important to keep Japan vibrant and support the social security system.

Tamura said he was instructed by Suga to advance work on the issue of health insurance coverage for fertility treatment.

While noting that the prime minister hopes to start such coverage as soon as possible, Tamura said it will take some time because the safety and effectiveness of fertility treatment need to be confirmed.

In the meantime, the health ministry will increase support for fertility treatment by expanding an existing financial aid program, he said.

On the possibility of doubling from 10 percent the share of out-of-pocket medical expenses for people 75 and over with specific income levels, Tamura said a relevant government panel will likely show “a certain direction” about the income threshold late this year

Tamura also said that other factors should be considered in the discussions, noting that the coronavirus crisis has led to changes in patients’ behaviors with regards to seeking medical treatment. It has also had a major impact on medical institutions.

He said that the government needs to study ways to secure funds to make sure the health insurance system is sustainable in the medium to long term because increasing the share of the elderly people’s medical cost burden to 20 percent alone will not be enough.

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