By KAYOKO GEJI/ Staff Writer
October 18, 2021 at 16:29 JST
Junior coalition partner Komeito has voiced complaints about the government’s mixed signals on allowing people to use widely available antigen test kits for a program aimed at easing COVID-19 restrictions.
The Cabinet Secretariat, which is putting priority on reigniting the pandemic-hit economy, wants to allow asymptomatic people to use negative results of the antigen tests as a “certificate” accepted for entry at eating and drinking establishments and sport and music venues.
But the health ministry’s guideline states, “It is not recommended that antigen test kits be used by asymptomatic people as a definitive diagnosis.”
Junior coalition partner Komeito has expressed frustration about the divided views in the government.
“The division can’t be understood by the public at all,” a Komeito lawmaker said at a party meeting in mid-September.
Antigen test kits are fairly easy to use and provide quick results on whether the person is carrying the novel coronavirus. But these tests are less accurate than polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, which are based on genetic material.
The health ministry noted that “some (antigen) tests might show negative results even if the people are infected.”
The Cabinet Secretariat plans to use those kits for people without any symptoms as part of the program offering “vaccine and test packages.”
Under that plan, COVID-19-related restrictions on crowd sizes and entry to bars, restaurants and events would be lifted if customers are required to show certificates proving they have been fully vaccinated or tested negative in a PCR test.
The program is aimed at accelerating the recovery of people’s daily lives by balancing anti-virus measures with social and economic activities.
The certificate program will undergo trial runs before being conducted on a full scale, possibly as early as in November.
The Cabinet Secretariat also wants negative results from antigen test kits to be included as a certificate in the program.
It also plans to use negative results from antigen tests as a prerequisite for allowing people to meet patients at hospitals or residents at nursing homes.
The Komeito lawmaker raised alarms, given the questionable accuracy of the antigen tests.
“If people carrying the virus enter hospitals, it could result in devastating consequences, and some patients might lose their lives,” the lawmaker said.
The health ministry has allowed sales of those antigen test kits at drugstores as a policy exception but said they should be used by people who feel ill.
If the results are positive, the test-takers should refrain from going to school or work and get checked at a hospital, the ministry said.
The notice included in test kits warns the buyer, “It is not recommended for use by an asymptomatic person.”
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