The Japanese health ministry on Friday relaxed its guidelines for giving coronavirus tests to people who have developed a symptom of infection, scraping the rigid fever rule which has been criticized for denying many potential patients access to the tests.

Before the latest guideline revision, the ministry focused on testing people who have developed prolonged symptoms of viral infection or those who are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 such as the elderly.

(Japanese health minister Katsunobu Kato)

The new rule no longer says people should seek consultation with a doctor after running a fever of 37.5 C or higher for at least four days.

The revision of the guidelines comes after the rigid criteria for giving a polymerase chain reaction test came under fire and there have been cases in which conditions of patients showing mild symptoms quickly worsened.

The new guidelines now advise people to seek medical help if they experience shortness of breath, a strong sense of fatigue or high fever.

Those who are suspected of developing COVID-19 are advised to first consult a local health center. Only doctors at designated medical institutions can decide whether to give PCR tests to potential patients.

In Japan where the nationwide state of emergency is in place through May 31, there has not been an explosive surge in coronavirus infections, but the country has been criticized over limited PCR testing.

As of Friday, the number of coronavirus infection cases in Japan stood at around 16,350 and 619 people had died from COVID-19.