photo by Tim Dennell
In December 2019, the coronavirus infection was first recognized in China. The third wave rapidly spread in Japan from December last year to February this year, and its impact is still significant. The number of newly confirmed COVID-19 infection exceeded 15 thousand. At the moment, most hospitals have their COVID-19 wards fully occupied. Despite that a hospital collapse, which occurred in U.S.A and Europe, hasn’t happened so far, the status of Japanese medical system is now “difficult to have ordinary medical cares”. The symptoms in early stage of COVID-19 are very similar to those of a common cold, therefore it is difficult to suspect COVID-19 from the beginning. But the most important thing is to remember that you must follow certain steps to visit a hospital, instead of going to see a doctor straight away.
When to see a doctor
When you suspect COVID-19, you must visit a medical institution to have a PCR test to confirm the infection. However, many COVID-19 patients have light symptoms or even no symptoms, therefore it is very difficult to distinguish early symptoms of COVID-19 from those of a common cold or flu. Whether or not to go to see a doctor when you have COVID-19 like symptoms is hard to determine by yourself. If you suspect COVID-19 but can’t decide if you should see a doctor, check the guideline published by Ministry of Health、Labour and Welfare.
- Short breath, tiredness, fever, etc. → consult a medical professional immediately
- Vulnerable to COVID-19 due to existing diseases, symptoms like common cold including fever and cough → consult a medical professional immediately
- Light symptoms of common cold for 4 days or longer → consult medical institution
Other than above, the symptoms suggestive of COVID-19 include fever, chill, muscle pain, head ache, sore throat, loss of a sense of taste and smell.
What to do when go to see a doctor
If you think you may have COVID-19, the first thing you should do is having a PCR test. If you get a negative result, you can just have a rest and keep yourself isolated from others as much as possible, same as when you have a common cold. But if you are confirmed positive, you will be hospitalized or get isolated in a medical institution according to the advice from a medical professional. Note that you must follow the steps below.
- Contact a medical institution and tell them you may have COVID-19. (Do not visit a medical institution without an appointment. If you have a family doctor, contact his/her clinic fist.)
- Following the medical professional’s instruction, make an appointment with a PCR test site.
- Have a PCR test at the site you made an appointment with.
You must follow the infection prevention rules when visiting any medical institution, for example, wearing a face mask, sanitizing your hands, coughing into the elbow, social distancing, etc.
Costs for PCR Test
PCR tests for COVID-19 are covered by health insurance system only when a patient has suggestive symptoms and as deemed necessary by the doctor or close contacts. In such a case, 10 to 30% of the cost which is normally paid by a patient is also covered at public expense, therefore the patient doesn’t need to pay for the test (treatments other than a PCR test including doctor’s examination to be paid by the patient).
However, if you wish to have a PCR test even though you don’t have any symptoms suggestive of COVID-19, all the costs for a PCR test are to be paid at your expense. The costs vary depending on medical institutions, but total cost would be 20,000 to 40,000yen.
The COVID-19 PCR Test Center
In Japan, PCR tests are not available to anyone anytime. Basically, only people who has symptoms and as deemed necessary by the doctor, or close contacts can be tested. However, in December last year, the “COVID-19 PCR Test Center” was open in Shinjuku and Shinbashi in Tokyo. You can have a saliva sampling PCR test by at this facility for 2,900yen per test (online booking only, no cash).
Advice Centers for Foreign Residents
Some foreign residents living in Japan are fluent in Japanese, but there are many of them who are not very confident with conversations in Japanese. Especially, talking about medical issues can be really difficult for them. If you suspect COVID-19 but are hesitant to contact with a medical professional, try either of the following multi-lingual services. There are advice centers operated by Tokyo, Osaka or other major cities, and another site established by Japan Tourism Agency.
- General Advice Center of municipalities
- Tokyo Coronavirus Support Center (TOCOS)
- COVID-19 Advice Center for Foreign Tourists (Japan Tourism Agency)
Fight Against COVID-19
The spread of COVID-19 has been accelerated since December last year. Vaccination started in February, but people are still hesitant to go out or see others. The coronavirus is highly contagious and many people are infected even though they are properly conducting infection prevention measures. If you suspect COVID-19, it is very important to consult a doctor and have a test as soon as possible. Also, self-isolate when you are sick. Check your nearest advice center in case you get infected with the coronavirus.