Test kits that can detect novel coronavirus antigens in 15 to 30 minutes are set to be approved Wednesday as part of efforts to improve the nation's testing regime, government sources said Saturday.
The government will cover the new test under the public insurance system, the sources said.
Fujirebio Inc., which makes the kit, said it can supply 200,000 a week and will expand output if there is more demand.
After the Tokyo-based company applied for approval in April, health minister Katsunobu Kato told the Diet on Friday he would make a decision "within the next week."
"They can be used at the medical front. The maker said a sizable number can be provided," Kato said.
Antigen tests, which detect proteins unique to a virus, are widely used when testing for the flu. Doctors insert swabs into the back of a nostril and get the results on site.
In contrast, the widely used polymerase chain reaction test requires sending samples to labs and waiting hours for the results. In some cases, patients have to wait for a week to learn the outcome.
But the antigen test is said to be less accurate, and patients with a limited amount of virus could test negative.
"We will cover its shortfalls with PCR tests, and consider how to use it in the best combination," Kato said.
The new test might be useful for testing patients requiring immediate medical attention as well as those getting ready to undergo operations, he said.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has also suggested using the antigen test prior to using PCR tests.