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System has COVID patients entering their own data

TOKYO >> People infected with the coronavirus, or the medical institutions treating them, will input their symptoms into a new centralized data system soon to be introduced by the health ministry.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry will issue ID numbers to people who are infected and those who have had close contact with them, and they will be asked to enter their body temperature and various symptoms via their computers or smartphones. The aim is to efficiently collect and manage information, and to reduce the burden on public health centers.

The ministry plans to launch the system this month.

The nation’s 468 public health centers nationwide are responsible for daily checks of COVID-19 patients and those with whom they have had close contact. The centers are also responsible for operating coronavirus information hotlines, transporting tests from hospitals to labs and arranging accommodations for patients at hospitals or hotels. Staff are overwhelmed.

More than 13,000 Japanese residents have been hit with the coronavirus, and hundreds of new cases crop up across the country daily. The new system also would unburden the centers from reporting data to other local governments and prefectures.

In March, the Wakayama City public health center got a jump on the technology and began a trial involving people who had close contact with patients. Participants used a smartphone app to enter their health information. One center staffer was able to handle work involving 70 patients in just 20 minutes; normally, the same work took four workers two hours to complete.

“Using information technology not only reduces the work but also makes it easier to analyze … clusters,” said Ken Osaka, a member of the health ministry’s cluster infection task force. “All local governments should introduce the new system as soon as possible, so that the state of infections can be analyzed nationwide.”

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