Tests for the new coronavirus will be covered under the national health insurance system from Friday, the health ministry said, as Japan steps up efforts to stem the spread of the pneumonia-causing virus.

The tests have previously only been conducted when public health centers considered them necessary. In some cases, the centers have refused to conduct tests despite requests from doctors, stirring public concern.

With the national health insurance coverage, the government will allow people to undergo testing at hospitals or by contracted private testing companies without being referred by health centers.

The government will also boost efforts to develop simple test kits, as it currently takes a few hours to detect the virus, officials said.