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Private facilities providing coronavirus polymerase chain reaction tests in Japan are being flooded with reservations just ahead of the turn of the year.

The popularity seems to reflect demand from people planning to visit their parents’ homes during the year-end and New Year’s holiday period.

But an expert warns that negative results do not necessarily guarantee that such trips would not pose coronavirus risk.

Private PCR test centers are intended mainly for citizens without COVID-19 symptoms, while centers under public administration handle those with symptoms and close contacts with carriers.

Those taking private tests need to pay the costs out of their pockets. Some centers make test kits available at drugstores and online so that collected samples can be sent by mail to the centers for PCR testing.

Private facilities offering PCR tests at affordable prices of several thousand yen have opened one after another since autumn.

Kinoshita Group Co., which runs housing and medical service operations, opened two PCR test centers in Tokyo capable of testing a total of 2,000 people per day. The price per test is ¥2,900 excluding tax.

As of Thursday, about 19,000 people had taken PCR tests at the centers. Both facilities are fully booked until early January.

At the group’s PCR test center in Shinjuku Ward, certified public accountant Koki Yamamoto, 49, was among those waiting in line for their turn.

Yamamoto said he takes a PCR test every two weeks because he frequently meets clients. He was taking one this time ahead of his imminent visit to his parents’ home in the city of Nagoya.

“My parents are in their 80s. I want to see them for the first time in a long while,” Yamamoto said.

An 18-year-old college student was waiting to take a PCR test before returning to hometown in Yamaguchi Prefecture.

“I’ve made few friends as many classes were online,” the student said. “I want to go home for the year-end. I was allowed to do so on condition I get tested.”

Showa University visiting professor Yoshihito Niki warned that negative PCR test results only mean that those who got the results did not have the virus at the time of the tests.

“Infection risk will remain all the same if you do not return to your hometowns quickly,” Niki said.

“It would be even dangerous if you repeat dining in groups, justifying it with your negative results,” he said. “Please take full precautions even after taking tests if you have to return to your hometowns.”

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