Vending machines offer COVID tests in Japan

Vending machines which offer testing kits for COVID-19 are becoming increasingly popular in Japan, according to reports.

Japan’s testing regime differs from other major industrialised countries in that In order to conserve hospital resources, the Japanese government conducts just 40,000 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests a day.

This figure represents a quarter of its capacity, restricting them to people who are quite symptomatic or have had a high chance of being infected.

This has led to the public to rely heavily on private clinics or buying PCR tests by other means, according to a report in Reuters.

Vending machines selling test kits offer consumers the option of avoiding crowded clinics or having to wait for an appointment, said Hideki Takemura, director of the Laketown Takenoko Ear Nose and Throat Clinic which has set up seven machines in the greater Tokyo area.

“Japan was conducting a ridiculously low number of PCR tests and as a result more and more people couldn’t tell whether they had a cold or the coronavirus,” Takemura said.

“Without PCR tests, no diagnosis is possible and I really felt we had to do more so that people could be diagnosed early and isolate early.”

Takemura said there was a huge response from the public when the machines were first deployed and some needed to be emptied of money twice a day.

Demand has since ebbed somewhat as a third wave of cases subsided amid a state of emergency. New cases in Tokyo have averaged around 250 over the past seven days compared with several days of more than 2,000 in early January.

Each vending machine holds about 60 testing kits which sell for 4,500 yen ($40). Customers then mail off a saliva sample for processing.

“As a medical worker, I’d be very happy if the number of tests decrease along with cases,” Takemura said.

Japan has about 4.1 million vending machines in operation, the most in the world per capita, according to a trade group.

In addition to vending machines, PCR tests have also become increasingly available to the public via sales at drugstores or over the internet.