SoftBank’s Son backtracks on free virus test proposal on Twitter

Son broke a 3-year silence on Twitter to comment on the coronavirus. (Reuters pic)

TOKYO: SoftBank Group Corp’s Masayoshi Son broke a three-year silence on Twitter to express concern about the coronavirus and propose free testing, only to backtrack after his offer drew criticism.

The Japanese billionaire first tweeted this week to say he is “worried about the situation of the new coronavirus”. In response to one follower’s comment, he then said he would consider what contributions he could make.

About a day later, Son returned to Twitter to propose 1 million free home tests for the virus since many people haven’t been able to find out whether they are infected.

But the idea drew fire because the Japanese healthcare system could be overwhelmed by such a huge influx of people with light symptoms.

Just hours later, Son returned to Twitter to say he was reconsidering the idea given the negative reaction.

I started the plan because I heard that many people couldn’t take the tests even if they want to,” he said, adding that he may not do it because it was badly received.

Son’s Twitter feed was flooded with comments asking him to reconsider.

“Are you trying to bring down the medical system? Please stop this,” said one comment.

Another post pointed out that some tests are far from simple, requiring the users to take a swab from deep in the nasal cavity and that a deluge of useless samples would actually impede detection.

There is a concern that because of limited testing Japan’s official tally of about 570 confirmed cases significantly underestimates the scope of the outbreak.

In February, the government drew fire for its attempts to quarantine passengers and crew on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, where infections surged to hundreds of cases.

Son rarely takes to Twitter, but he had made similar comments expressing concern in 2011 after a tsunami hit Japan and damaged a nuclear reactor in Fukushima.

Not all responses to his latest foray have been negative.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s tax chief, Akira Amari, praised the offer. The politician said that in addition to Son, discount furniture magnate Akio Nitori also offered to donate 1 million face masks to the northern prefecture of Hokkaido, which has been particularly hard-hit.

“All kinds of people are rising up” to help, Amari wrote in a tweet.