Japan approved Tuesday a PCR coronavirus test using saliva, which is much safer and easier compared with the currently dominant method, which collects mucus from the back part of the nose.

The new testing method targets those within nine days of displaying symptoms and is covered by public health insurance. It is expected to pose less of an infection risk to medical staff, as examinees only provide their saliva in a container at medical facilities.

The existing method uses a cotton swab to collect mucus from the nose, which has a high possibility of causing the patients to sneeze or cough in the process. As it leaves medical staff collecting the sample prone to potential infection, they need to wear goggles and a gown. This has become a sticking point in expanding the scale of PCR testing.

Japan has been widely criticized for not conducting enough virus tests compared with other countries.

“The burden on both patients and sample-collecting institutions that need to protect staff from infections will be alleviated significantly,” health minister Katsunobu Kato told a news conference.

The test will be available at outpatient departments at designated hospitals and PCR testing centers. It will also be used for patients with coronavirus symptoms and staff at medical institutions to avoid in-hospital infection.

There has been concern that the amount of virus could be smaller in saliva than in mucus from the nose, resulting in less accurate test results.

But research on specimens from 88 coronavirus patients found that the results were all but identical between the two methods for those within nine days of showing symptoms.

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