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Coronavirus

SoftBank to offer $21 at-home coronavirus tests in Japan

The saliva-screening exam is currently limited to public and private sector workers

A worker processes a sample at a coronavirus testing facility run by a SoftBank Group subsidiary in Chiba, near Tokyo. (Photo by Shihoko Nakaoka)

TOKYO -- The general public in Japan will be able to receive low-cost at-home coronavirus testing from SoftBank Group, which until now had only offered its PCR screening to companies and local governments.

Saliva-based polymerase chain reaction tests will be available to asymptomatic people beginning in March for an expected cost of 2,200 yen ($21), including taxes but excluding shipping and other costs -- the same price SoftBank charges to corporate and public-sector users.

Tests at health care institutions often cost north of $150.

Users will request test kits online and send them back to group subsidiary Coronavirus Inspection Center, which has labs in Chiba Prefecture outside of Tokyo and in the northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido.

Once tests arrive at the labs, results will be available the same day or the next, with users notified via a dedicated phone app.

No diagnosis by a physician will accompany the lab results and the program will not issue proof of a negative result. Users with a positive result will need to be retested with a government-approved system. Information about medical institutions for retesting is expected to be available via the app.

Established in July, Softbank's lab subsidiary has run roughly 100,000 tests sent from about 1,900 companies and other institutions. It will be able to accommodate 10,000 tests a day starting in January and open its capacity to individuals as well. Equipment and personnel additions will be considered depending on demand among the public, said Masayoshi Son-led SoftBank.

About 400 private-sector companies and health care institutions now offer PCR tests to the public, according to government data. Construction company Kinoshita Group has launched in-person testing centers, including one in the busy Shinjuku area of Tokyo, charging 3,190 yen per test.

DNAform, a startup established by government-backed research institute Riken, has also opened an in-person saliva testing location near Tokyo station. Results are returned the next day for 1,980 yen, with an option of same-day results delivered in about two hours costing 9,900 yen.

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