The health ministry is planning to approve polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests to detect novel coronavirus infections using saliva samples as early as this month, it was learned Monday.

The move will lead to a rise in the number of PCR tests in the country.

If approved, the National Institute of Infectious Diseases will amend its manual on collecting samples for coronavirus PCR tests.

Collecting saliva is far easier than taking mucus samples from the back of the nose, which requires skills and experience.

Inserting cotton swabs into the nose to collect mucus samples can trigger a sneeze, posing infection risks to medical workers. Medical gowns and face masks are necessary to minimize infection risks, but many medical institutions face shortages.

It is also less risky to handle saliva samples because they are enclosed in a special container.

The Japan Medical Association has requested that the health ministry swiftly approve saliva-based PCR tests.