Japan’s health ministry will introduce a system for health centres to report new coronavirus cases online instead of by hand-written faxes, phone or email – drawing praise from some but scorn from others wondering what took it so long.
Despite Japan’s high-tech image, many businesses and government offices still rely on fax machines, generating documents on which officials can stamp their approval with traditional “hanko” seals, and leaving a paper trail.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has been promoting working from home to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, has told cabinet ministers to overhaul regulations and identify burdensome procedures with a view to scrapping or simplifying them.
The health ministry said on Thursday it would launch the online reporting system from May 10, with it going nationwide from May 17, to reduce the burden on health centres struggling with a growing coronavirus epidemic.
Japan has had more than 14,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus infection and 455 deaths, according to public broadcaster NHK.
Abe is expected to extend for about one month a state of emergency, originally set to end on May 6, to fight the outbreak.
A health ministry official said the new reporting system would benefit health centres and boost the efficiency of its data collection, including on new infections, hospitalisations and severe cases.
Ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Masaaki Taira applauded the ministry’s decision.
“The IT environment for public health had taken a big step forward,” Taira said on Twitter.
Others were less impressed.
“Sorry, but I can’t say ‘well done’. What were you doing until now?” said Twitter user mamazon.
“There seem to be lots of other handwritten faxes. I’m waiting until they are all abolished.”