The government of Japan is under the fire for the limited number of coronavirus or COVID-19 tests that were conducted, eased the access for such tests on Friday indicating that a new test which will supplement the recently dominant polymerase chain reaction test can be approved next week.
The Health Ministry stated that is now wants the people who are experiencing trouble breathing or heavy sluggishness to get advice about whether they have been infected with the novel virus. It also relaxed the criteria for fevers.
Japan working on ramping up Coronavirus tests
Government guidelines had previously specified that those who had had a fever of 37.5 Celsius (99.5 Fahrenheit) or more for four consecutive days should seek advice at local public health centres. Those centres are tasked with conducting screening ahead of administering PCR tests for the virus. Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike welcomed the move.
"The widening of the gateway, which was narrow, makes it easier to have tests," she told reporters. Japan had conducted 188 PCR tests per 100,000 people, compared with 3,159 in Italy and 3,044 in Germany, data from a panel of experts advising the government on coronavirus responses showed on Monday. Critics say the low rate of testing in Japan has made it difficult to trace the virus as it spread in major cities and led to a series of in-hospital infections, crippling some facilities.
Antigen test targets the virus's protein
Health Minister Katsunobu Kato told parliament on Friday the government's review of antigen test kits, which are simpler and quicker to conduct than PCR tests, will be completed next week for possible approval. An antigen test targets the virus's protein to establish whether a person is infected, while an antibody test is used to detect those who have been infected with the virus.
"We can use them once approved. We would naturally need to think about utilising them to supplement PCR tests," Kato said. Fujirebio, a subsidiary of Japanese diagnostics and laboratory testing service provider Miraca Holdings, last month applied for government approval for Japan's first antigen coronavirus testing kits.
In an additional step to help promote more tests, the government plans to start providing medical workers with 30 million surgical masks, two million gowns and 1.5 million face shields starting next week. The expert panel advising the government said on Monday the "overwhelming" shortage of personal protective equipment for sample collectors and laboratory technicians has been one factor behind a slow pickup in the number of PCR tests.
(With agency inputs)