Photo/Illutration The new diagnostic testing kit for the coronavirus produces a result in just 30 minutes. (Naoyuki Himeno)

A diagnostic testing kit for the coronavirus that produces a reading in just 30 minutes, instead of the current six hours, will be available as early as March, the health ministry said.

For now, conducting a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test is the only way to check for coronavirus infection. This involves taking throat samples of mucus and sputum and testing them for ribonucleic acid (RNA), which is present in the coronavirus. 

If the RNA exceeds a certain amount, a patient is deemed to be infected. But the samples need to be multiplied in a special machine to reach a definitive conclusion. Getting to this point takes about six hours.

The new testing kit was made possible by technologies developed by the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST). In essence, it speeds up the amplification of RNA to produce a result in about 30 minutes, including the time to process samples before the test.

The portable device can test up to four people at once. It is priced at several million yen each.

The ministry said the National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NIID) has conducted performance checks of the new device since Feb. 20 and confirmed it was just as accurate as existing testing devices.

The device has already been sold in Japan. A test reagent for the new coronavirus will become available as early as next month.

Kyorin Pharmaceutical Co., which manufactures the new testing equipment, said it had several dozen units in stock that are ready to be delivered nationwide.

Toru Shionoya, director of Kyorin Pharmaceutical's In Vitro Diagnostics Business division, said the company was making every effort to meet the challenge posed by the coronavirus and planned to make the new kits available for practical use as soon as possible.