Photo/Illutration A computer monitor shows a curved line, indicating a patient is positive for novel coronavirus, at the Hyogo Prefectural Institute of Public Health Science in Kakogawa, Hyogo Prefecture. (Kenta Sujino)

The government, unable to trace some routes of new COVID-19 infections around Japan, is establishing a much wider and quicker virus testing system for the disease.

The epicenter of the novel coronavirus outbreak is the Chinese city of Wuhan in Hubei province. But some patients in Japan who were recently confirmed infected with the virus have not been to Wuhan and apparently had no contact with people from the city.

Unlike influenza, there is no simple diagnosis kit to test against the coronavirus.

For now, conducting a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test is the only way to check for coronavirus infections in people.

The government plans to expand the number of institutions, including universities and private companies, that can conduct the PCR tests.

The PCR test examines the amount of genetic material originating from the virus, and it takes at least six hours for a diagnosis. In comparison, an influenza diagnosis requires around 10 minutes.

In the PCR test, mucus and sputum from a possibly infected person’s throat are taken and tested for the coronavirus’s ribonucleic acid (RNA).

The sampled RNA is increased by a machine because the amount taken is too small to reach a conclusion. If the RNA exceeds a certain amount, the patient is deemed positive for the coronavirus.

But there currently is a limited number of institutions in Japan that can conduct the testing, and it takes time to transport specimens to these facilities.

The National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NIID) in Tokyo and only some of the 83 prefectural and municipal public health institutes initially had conducted the bulk of the testing.

With the spread of infections around Japan, however, most of the regional public health institutes are expected to start conducting the tests soon.

The NIID will introduce a high-speed testing system for specimen material, heightening the testing capability from 200 people at one time to 800 people at the maximum.

SRL Inc., a Tokyo-based clinical laboratory testing company, will take part in the testing conducted by the NIID.

The company said it can handle specimen material of several hundred people at one go.

SRL said it will devote all of its time to novel coronavirus testing, except for regular orders from medical institutions.