Pfizer Japan Inc. said Friday it has applied to the health ministry for approval of its COVID-19 pill which, if granted, would make it the second oral drug for mild coronavirus cases available in the country.

The new drug application for Paxlovid, a combination of the antiviral drugs nirmatrelvir and ritonavir, comes as Japan is battling its sixth surge of COVID-19 cases amid a spread of the omicron variant, with the country already agreeing to procure enough of the drug for 2 million people.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said earlier in the week a final agreement with the Japanese arm of U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. on the drug's purchase is expected by the end of January, aiming for its approval in February.

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has already approved the oral drug molnupiravir, developed by U.S. pharmaceutical company Merck & Co. in December.

Health minister Shigeyuki Goto said in December that oral drugs are expected to play a significant role in treating sufferers of mild COVID-19 symptoms.

Clinical trials have shown that Paxlovid has a higher chance of preventing hospitalizations and deaths compared to molnupiravir, cutting such risks by 88% for patients who took the drug within five days of the onset of symptoms, compared to those who were given a placebo, according to the company

The pill, which prevents the coronavirus from multiplying in the body, is prescribed to be taken twice a day for five days.

It has been approved in Britain and was authorized in the United States in December for emergency use.