The government of Japan stated on Tuesday that it has approved the saliva-based tests for the new coronavirus or COVID-19 while offering a safer and simpler process for diagnosing the infection than usual nasal swabs as it looks to boosting the testing rates.

Currently, the nasal swabs are the most important source for tests in the Asian country, but they can pose the medical workers to coughs and sneezes at the time of collection, making it very vital for them to wear the full protective gear.

Japan Approves Saliva-Based Testing for Coronavirus

Coronavirus
Coronavirus outbreak in China (Representational picture) Pixabay

The saliva-based tests are able to be given to those who have had symptoms for up to nine days, Japan's health ministry said. It wasn't immediately clear how much the change would boost overall testing capacity. "This will vastly reduce burdens on patients as well as burdens that come with infection-prevention steps on the part of sample-collecting institutions," Health Minister Katsunobu Kato told reporters, outlining the change.

Japan falls well behind other industrialized nations in terms of its number of coronavirus tests. Critics say the low rate of testing has made it difficult to trace the virus, which has led to a series of in-hospital infection clusters. As of May 20, Japan conducted 3.4 PCR tests per 1,000 people, far below Italy's 52.5 and 39 in the United States, according to Oxford University data. South Korea has carried out tests on 15 people per 1,000 people.

Japan, which lifted its state of emergency last week, has escaped an explosive outbreak, with nearly 17,000 infections and 898 deaths so far, according to NHK public broadcaster. But the epidemic has tipped the world's third-biggest economy into recession and sent Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's popularity to multi-year lows.

Over 30 Cases Reported in Tokyo on Tuesday

The health ministry said about two dozen different test kits, including one from Takara Bio Inc, have been approved for saliva-based PCR tests. Shares in Takara Bio jumped 4% on Tuesday, outperforming a 1.19 percent rise in the Nikkei average.

More than 30 new coronavirus infections were reported in Tokyo on Tuesday, NHK said, marking the first time the number of daily cases has topped 30 in 19 days. Musashino Central Hospital in western Tokyo said 12 patients and three hospital workers had been confirmed with the virus, taking the total number of cases at the hospital to 31, forming the latest infection cluster.

(With agency inputs)