Japan's health ministry has approved the use of the steroid drug dexamethasone for the treatment of novel coronavirus patients, following the approval of remdesivir in May, it came to light on Tuesday.

Dexamethasone has drawn international attention since it was reported in Britain last month that the drug reduced deaths among patients with severe cases of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus.

File photo shows a box of Dexamethasone tablets. (Getty/Kyodo)

The inexpensive and easy to obtain drug is used to treat a wide range of conditions including lung disease. It is also covered by medical insurance.

Dexamethasone was mentioned as a government approved drug in a revised version of a Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare handbook for treating COVID-19 patients.

The handbook, revised Friday, cited the inclusion of the drug in a study by the University of Oxford and revised guidelines for treating COVID-19 patients by the National Institutes of Health of the United States.

Comparing around 2,100 patients who were administered with the drug for 10 days and 4,300 patients who were not, a University of Oxford team said in June that the drug reduced deaths by a third among ventilated patients and by a fifth among patients receiving oxygen only.

However, the death rate did not change for patients who did not require respiratory support, it said.

Taking into account the results of the Oxford study, the NIH revised its guidelines to recommend that the drug be administered to ventilated patients and those requiring oxygen injection.

The World Health Organization said the drug "can be lifesaving for patients who are critically ill with COVID-19."

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