Japan eyes use of robots to boost COVID testing

Japan’s health minister watched a demonstration on Tuesday (January 19) of a prototype robotic COVID-19 testing machine that delivers results in about 80 minutes.

Kawasaki Heavy Industries, who built the robot system, say it is easily transported and can be set up at stadiums, theme parks and other mass gatherings.

The Japanese government has been criticized for a lack of testing, and is under pressure to show the situation is under control with fewer than 200 days until the start of the Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Health Minister Norihisa Tamura was seemingly impressed with what he saw.

"The quality can be standardized if we make the testing automated. Also it is a big task to reduce manpower (during the testing), but since it can be done in an almost fully automatic way, in this sense, we can test more and more people as long as we have the machine."

Japan has conducted fewer tests than other major economies - only about 55,000 PCR tests daily.

Its policy has been to focus on infection clusters and virus tracing.

But the country is currently gripped by a third wave of infections - prompting the government to announce a new state of emergency this month.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has said his government aims to have the first COVID-19 vaccine approved and rolled out by the end of February, which would still be months behind many other countries.