Photo/Illutration The building in Tokyo's Kasumigaseki district housing the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

The health ministry, mindful of the looming influenza season, revised its procedures to determine if a person with symptoms should be tested and treated for COVID-19.

Until now, those suffering from a fever or coughing were advised to contact the local public health office where staff decide if treatment and testing for the novel coronavirus should be done at a medical institution.

Under the guidelines announced Sept. 4, an individual can phone his or her family doctor or nearby medical institution for a consultation before a decision is made on whether testing and treatment is needed at a designated medical institution.

The change is aimed at avoiding the logjam that prevailed in the first wave of COVID-19 this spring and kept anxious people waiting often for days before they were tested.

The new procedure could begin as early as October, in time for the influenza season when more people are expected to visit medical institutions for fear they have COVID-19.

The health ministry the same day notified prefectural authorities nationwide to set up appropriate medical structures before the end of October to allow for the guidelines to be implemented.

Prefectural governments will designate medical institutions that can test and treat for both COVID-19 and influenza. Those institutions will be allowed to use simplified antigen testing that takes less time than polymerase chain reaction tests to determine if an individual has COVID-19.

After a person with suspect symptoms calls his or her family doctor by phone, the individual can make a reservation to be tested and treated by that physician if the clinic is a designated one. If it is not, the doctor will recommend an institution that has been designated.

Procedures will be implemented so all medical institutions in whatever region will know which ones have been designated.

It will be up to local governments to decide whether or not to publicize which medical institutions have been designated. Some may not want that information to be widely known due to fears about negative publicity.

It is not clear which medical institutions will be designated for testing and treatment of COVID-19.

However, health minister Katsunobu Kato told a Sept. 4 news conference that he hoped prefectural governments would designate as many medical institutions as possible. He also revealed that financial support is being considered for institutions that are designated.

Public health offices will still take phone calls on weekends and at night when medical institutions are not open from people who fear they might have been infected.

Those health offices will then refer the individual to a designated institution.

The current practice of those offices deciding whether a person should go to a medical institution for a diagnosis about COVID-19 will cease. The institutions where individuals had been diagnosed and tested until now will concentrate on providing in-patient care for those with COVID-19.