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Japan’s health ministry has asked testing facilities for COVID-19 not to rely heavily on chemicals produced by one foreign company, as authorities are concerned that a supply shortage could complicate efforts to increase the country’s capacity to carry out polymerase chain reaction tests, sources said Tuesday.

The chemicals necessary for coronavirus test kits, known as reagents, depending on their types, are becoming increasingly difficult to procure due to high global demand by countries desperate to beat the COVID-19 respiratory disease, as well as increased virus testing at airports.

Reagents are produced by many companies, including some in Japan. However, experts and industry sources told Kyodo News that most testing facilities prefer to buy products from Qiagen, because the foreign supplier is on the recommended list of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases.

Reagents are used to detect whether a nose swab sample contains the RNA sequences specific to COVID-19, its genetic code.

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has requested testing facilities across the country to use reagents from other companies as well, while asking dealers to ensure a stable supply of the main chemicals in the first place.

Their scarcity would hinder the government’s goal of ramping up the country’s capacity of conducting 20,000 PCR tests a day.

Due also to a lack of human resources and advanced preparations, the number of PCR tests done in Japan has been very low.

According to data disclosed by a government panel of experts, Japan has conducted 188 PCR tests per 100,000 people, while many other countries have done more than 1,000 tests.

Despite the ministry’s request, medical experts say that it could take time for the facilities to create capacity to conduct PCR tests with other reagents as they need to have some time to experiment with them to attain great accuracy.

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