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SoftBank

SoftBank sets up subsidiary for COVID-19 testing

Tech investor aims to offer 'low cost and high frequency' saliva PCR tests

SoftBank Group is establishing a subsidiary to offer saliva-based coronavirus tests. (Source photos by Takaki Kashiwabara and Ken Kobayashi)

TOKYO -- SoftBank Group on Wednesday said it established a subsidiary to offer saliva-based coronavirus tests, as Japan continues to grapple with the spread of COVID-19.

The new company, Coronavirus Inspection Center Corp., aims to offer "low cost and high frequency" saliva-based polymerase chain reaction tests, SoftBank said. With the cooperation of the National Center for Global Health and Medicine, it will begin testing employees as well as its baseball team players.

The company also plans to offer at-cost tests to local governments and hospitals in Japan, and profits will be donated. Masato Ikeda, who leads SoftBank's corporate social responsibility initiatives, will lead the business.

SoftBank will use test kits produced by Japan's Takara Bio. Saliva-based PCR tests, in which saliva is collected in a tube and sent to a lab to detect coronavirus, are considered as having a relatively low risk of secondary infections.

Masayoshi Son, SoftBank founder and chairman, has been a vocal advocate of widespread testing by the private sector as a way to deal with the spread of COVID-19. SoftBank conducted antibody tests on some 44,000 group employees and business associates, the largest test by a private company in Japan, and published the results last month.

In announcing the results, Son said saliva-based PCR tests were an effective way for the private sector to monitor employees and allow economic activity to continue without suffering a large wave of infections. If each saliva PCR test could be done at 1,000 yen ($9.50), then testing the entire population of Japan would theoretically be much more cost effective than spending hundreds of billions of dollars on economic stimulus, he said.

The move comes as Japan is hit by a fresh wave of coronavirus cases. Japan confirmed 1,003 new cases on Wednesday, its largest ever one-day increase, with a spike in infections in Osaka.

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