• Kyodo, Reuters

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The Hiroshima Prefectural Government in western Japan said Friday it is considering conducting free coronavirus testing of up to 800,000 people in the largest such testing campaign in the country, as it struggles to contain a recent rise in infections.

The voluntary polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing will target all residents and workers in the heart of the city of Hiroshima, where the virus situation is deemed to be at Stage 4, the worst level on the central government’s four-point scale, it said.

The prefectural capital with a population of about 1.2 million has recently seen an explosive spread of coronavirus infections. The cumulative total has reached 2,900 cases in the city.

According to the prefecture, about 600,000 people reside in the city’s central wards of Naka, Higashi, Minami and Nishi, and around 100,000 to 200,000 people are estimated to be working there.

The Hiroshima government said it is now discussing details of how and when to carry out the virus testing campaign, including the expansion of PCR testing centers and provision of mail-in test kits. It hopes to start as soon as possible and complete the testing by March, a prefectural government official said.

It is also preparing to secure more hotel rooms for those showing mild symptoms, with the number of people confirmed positive for the virus set to increase as a result of the large-scale testing.

“I believe tests of this size have rarely been seen (in Japan),” a Hiroshima Prefectural Government official said. “They say coronavirus is transmissible two days before one develops symptoms, and some of those who are infected do not necessarily visit clinics in a timely manner. We want to catch those people and prevent further infection.”

Japan conducted an average 0.43 tests per 1,000 people a day in the week to Jan. 12, according to Oxford-linked tracker Our World In Data. That compares with 8.41 tests in Britain and 3.93 tests in the United States.

Yasutoshi Nishimura, minister in charge of Japan’s coronavirus response, said Thursday the central government regards the city of Hiroshima as an area requiring anti-virus measures similar to those adopted by local governments under the state of emergency currently in place in 11 prefectures based on a law to address the spread of the virus. Hiroshima Prefecture is not included in the 11.

As a result, dining and drinking establishments in the western Japanese city will receive up to ¥60,000 per day in financial support if they comply with the government’s request to shorten their business hours to help curb infections.

The amount is tantamount to financial assistance provided to such facilities in the 11 prefectures, which include Tokyo, Osaka and Aichi.

The Hiroshima Prefectural Government has reinforced its virus measures as well, asking all restaurants and bars including those not serving alcohol in the city to close by 8 p.m.

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