The health ministry has decided to allow dentists to collect samples from people suspected of being infected with coronavirus in an effort to strengthen the country’s ability to conduct polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for detecting infection, according to informed sources.
The plan was approved at an expert panel meeting on Sunday.
The ministry will notify local governments of the measure after fleshing out operational details, the sources said.
Currently, samples for PCR tests are collected from patients’ nostrils and throats by doctors and other medical staff at outpatient facilities for returnees from abroad and those who had close contact with virus carriers, as well as at special testing facilities set up by regional medical associations.
The number of daily tests conducted in Japan has been increasing, reaching nearly 9,000. But the number has not yet met the target of 20,000 that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged on April 6.
Dentists have been deemed ineligible to collect patients’ samples, as the act was regarded as a medical practice under the medical practitioners law.
But the panel judged it imperative to allow dentists, who have expertise in working inside the mouth, to collect samples to cope with an anticipated surge in demand for testing amid the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.
The ministry also hopes the measure will help reduce doctors’ workload.
Dentists who have taken relevant training will be able collect samples from patients at the special outpatient facilities for a certain period.
The measure should be effective as long as testing demand keeps growing, according to the sources.
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