Japan to scrap 37.5 C fever rule for PCR testing

TOKYO — Japan’s health ministry is set to scrap a rule that requires people to have had a fever of 37.5 C or higher for four days or longer before being eligible for a coronavirus test.

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare’s new policy will specify that people should contact authorities immediately if they have difficulty breathing or feel exhausted.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe conceded on Monday that Japan’s testing for the virus has been insufficient by international standards, saying “personnel-related bottlenecks” have hindered broader use of polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, screening.

Japan has conducted 187.8 PCR tests per 100,000 people, while other major economies have done more than 1,000 tests, according to a report by a government panel of experts released on Monday.

Many people who became seriously ill have complained they were not tested because they did not meet the fever requirements or that testing was conducted too late.

The original guidelines, announced by the ministry on Feb. 17, were aimed at allowing elderly people and those with severe symptoms such as breathing difficulties to be given a consultation. But because this explanation was insufficient, some people misunderstood that they couldn’t consult medical services until they had a fever for four days or longer. This led to delays in testing and treatment.

According to a draft of the guidelines discussed by the government experts on Monday, one consideration is for “immediate consultation” if a person shows “strong symptoms” such as difficulty breathing, fatigue or a high fever.

The proposed guidelines also state that pregnant women, elderly people, and those with underlying health issues as diabetes or heart problems can get an immediate consultation if they have “relatively mild” cold symptoms such as a fever or cough.

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