Preventing COVID Clusters: Nippon Foundation Announces Free PCR Tests for Tokyo Essential Workers

Health Society Lifestyle

Since the end of 2020 a third wave of COVID-19 infections has been growing rapidly in Japan, placing pressure on medical facilities. The Nippon Foundation has announced a new program of free PCR testing for essential workers in Tokyo’s aged care facilities with the aim of protecting the at-risk elderly and preventing new infection clusters from cropping up.

On January 19, the Nippon Foundation announced a new program targeting essential healthcare workers in Tokyo’s elderly care and long-term-stay medical facilities. The program, set to run from February through July, will offer weekly polymerase chain reaction testing to these workers free of charge.

Japan is now in the throes of a third wave of COVID-19 infections, and clusters have been reported in aged care facilities across the nation. One route of infection has been the nursing care and other workers at these locations. Even workers who are healthy report heightened stress levels brought about by worries that they could be a channel introducing the virus to the vulnerable residents of the facilities where they work.

Regular PCR testing is one reliable way to identify COVID-19 cases early, making it an ideal approach for essential care workers as they seek to avoid spreading infection and triggering new clusters of the disease. These tests can cost considerable amounts when sought by asymptomatic people, though, as the cost is generally defrayed only for ill patients ordered to seek one to confirm infection status. This limits the number of people who can seek them on a regular basis for work purposes.

The Nippon Foundation Disaster Emergency Support Center, located in Tokyo’s bayside Odaiba district, will house a new unit to offer weekly PCR testing to the roughly 190,000 people working at 2,884 medical and nursing care facilities in the Tokyo metropolis. The foundation has earmarked ¥20 billion for the unit and aims to offer 2 million tests in all during the February–July period it will be in operation.

The Kawasaki Heavy Industries testing system at the heart of the new PCR unit. (Courtesy of Kawasaki Heavy Industries)
The Kawasaki Heavy Industries testing system at the heart of the new PCR unit. (Courtesy of Kawasaki Heavy Industries)

Following a positive test result, free testing will be extended to all residents of the facility where the testee works, as well as to family members of the infected individual. Follow-up systems are also being readied to provide funding for relief workers to replace the individual while he or she undergoes treatment and quarantine.

Sasakawa Yōhei, chairman of the Nippon Foundation, states, “There’s nothing more important than human life. By enhancing Tokyo’s PCR testing regime we can help to protect the elderly, who are most susceptible to this virus, and to stave off a collapse in medical care systems.”

(Originally written in Japanese. Banner photo: Nippon Foundation Chairman Sasakawa Yōhei announces the new PCR testing support program. Courtesy of the Nippon Foundation.)

Tokyo Nippon Foundation COVID-19 pandemic