Tokyo: The Japanese government has given the green light to its first rapid antigen test to diagnose COVID-19 that delivers results faster than others, an official spokesperson said on Wednesday.
The test kit, which takes a nasopharyngeal sample, does not need a laboratory to obtain the diagnosis, unlike the most commonly used method, PCR (polymerase chain reaction), and the result can be available in less than half an hour, Efe news reported.
Approval of this mass-use test kit was confirmed by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga on Wednesday, and the Ministry of Health adopted the relevant guidelines.
Suga said that those who test negative using this new method will again undergo the PCR test for confirmation since it is more accurate, but those testing positive are certain to have been infected.
The rapid antigen test kit can be used in health centres and also by people in proximity to those who have already been infected with SARS-CoV-2. The antigen test kit's manufacturer, Fujirebio, has committed to supplying about 200,000 units per week and could expand production if necessary.
Japanese authorities have said that this rapid antigen test kit will be covered under the national health insurance.
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said that as a result of this approval, they will be able to conduct around 3,000 tests a month from June at health centres in the capital.
According to the latest official statistics, 16,000 people have been infected with COVID-19 in Japan since the first case, which emerged in mid-January, and 671 people have died from the disease.
Since April 7, the country has been under a state of a health emergency, which is scheduled to continue until May 31.
The state of emergency initially affected the Tokyo metropolitan area and six other prefectures although it was subsequently extended throughout the country when the number of coronavirus cases surpassed 9,000.
The implementation of the alert in Japan is left to local and regional authorities, who have taken a number of concrete measures according to the level of infection.
When Abe announced the state of emergency, he said the goal was to reduce interpersonal contact by 70 to 80 per cent.
As part of these measures, the Japanese government maintains the entry ban which prohibits the arrival of citizens and foreigners from dozens of countries and is asking Japanese citizens to travel to those places only if absolutely necessary.
(With agency inputs)