Photo/Illutration An antigen test kit used at a facility for senior citizens (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

The health ministry can start the process to officially approve online sales of rapid antigen test kits, after its expert panel on COVID-19 response green-lit the move on Aug. 17.

The ministry said it will start the necessary procedures soon after manufacturers of the test kits apply for authorization.

The online sales are aimed at making the tests more accessible to the public as demand for speedy testing jumped amid a steep surge in new cases that began in July.

Japan has a stockpile of about 150 million rapid antigen test kits as of Aug. 8, according to the ministry.

Supplying medical institutions remains a top priority. But this latest move is expected to help alleviate some of the pressure on hospitals, which have been flooded with symptomatic people who suspect they are infected.

Those who think they may be infected can get tested with the kits first at home and then visit hospitals only after they receive positive results.

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare is also considering having those who tested positive register their infection status with the coronavirus follow-up center set up by each local government, rather than seeing a doctor.

The same day, the ministry compiled a draft text that would accompanying the test kits, including instructions for how to carry out the tests properly.

A rapid antigen test, which is also known as a qualitative antigen test, generates results in about 15 minutes, making them incredibly convenient.

But their success rate for detecting the coronavirus is not as high as PCR tests.

A user also needs to pay close attention to the manner of conducting the test and other important parts of the process to ensure proper use of the kit.

Pharmacies that have brick-and-mortar stores will be able to sell the kits online, along with some other approved entities.