As Japan seeks to expand its capacity for polymerase chain reaction tests for the novel coronavirus, a Fujifilm Corp. subsidiary on Friday started selling a chemical that will allow for faster checks than existing methods.
Fujifilm Wako Pure Chemical Corp.'s reagent will allow its automated test machines, already in use to detect tuberculosis and other diseases, to complete tests for the virus in around 75 minutes, down from the current four to six hours for existing test methods.
The machines have already been introduced in dozens of major hospitals and medical facilities. They require less manual labor by expert inspectors and can check samples for four patients in one test.
"The time required for testing will be minimized, thus reducing the risks of infections," Fujifilm Wako Pure Chemical, based in Osaka, said in a statement.
"As the PCR testing process is simplified and can be conducted without expert inspectors, it will reduce the burden on inspectors and contribute to faster testing at a wide range of medical institutions," it said.
The number of PCR tests carried out in Japan has been very low due to a lack of human resources and advanced preparation. The government is hoping to increase its capacity and conduct 20,000 such tests a day.
According to data disclosed by a government panel of experts, Japan has conducted 188 PCR tests per 100,000 people, while many other countries have done more than 1,000.
Concerns have also been raised about a shortage of reagents to test for the coronavirus amid a surge in demand to beat the pandemic.
Japan's health ministry has requested testing facilities across the country to use reagents from multiple producers, instead of depending on one or two foreign suppliers, medical experts and industry sources told Kyodo News earlier.