E-commerce giant Rakuten Inc. said Monday it has started selling coronavirus testing kits to businesses and Sharp Corp. said it will sell face masks, joining other major companies in combating the rapid spread of the novel virus.

Rakuten said the self-assessment kit developed by genetic analysis firm Genesis Healthcare Co., to be sold to companies in Tokyo and four neighboring prefectures, is for people who suspect they have the pneumonia-causing disease but are asymptomatic.

The kit's polymerase chain reaction test will determine whether a nose swab sample contains the RNA sequences specific to COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus. Those who test positive will still need to consult a doctor for confirmation.

Tokyo-based Genesis Healthcare, in which Rakuten has an undisclosed stake, will send results within three days, excluding weekends and holidays, after collecting the samples.

Each one-person kit costs 14,900 yen ($138) including tax, and the minimum order is 100 kits. Rakuten plans to offer them in other parts of Japan from May.

[Photo courtesy of Sharp]

Experts have warned that Japan, which has focused on tracking group infections, has been conducting significantly fewer tests than other countries.

The government is expanding testing capacity, but local health care centers face shortages of personnel and other resources to carry out tests. Meanwhile, some hospitals are turning away people suspected of carrying the virus due to a lack of capacity to treat them, and to prevent transmission to inpatients.

A shortage of face masks in Japan has also proved problematic in fighting the coronavirus, with the government offering subsidies to companies which have decided to invest in facilities to start or ramp up production of masks.

Among the recipients, Sharp, a home appliance maker based in Osaka, said it will sell face masks manufactured at its domestic display plant from 10 a.m. Tuesday on its e-commerce website at 3,278 yen for one box containing 50 masks, with 660 yen charged for shipping.

Purchases will be restricted to one box at a time, with further purchases not allowed until three days after the initial one.

If the daily sales volume of 3,000 boxes is reached, the masks will not be supplied until 10 a.m. the following day until May 10. Sharp seeks to boost its production capacity and eventually sell 10,000 boxes a day.

The manufacturer launched mask production in its dust-free clean rooms at the plant in Mie Prefecture in March and has already shipped them to the government.

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