COVID-19 antigen test kits (Provided by Fujirebio Inc.)

The health ministry allowed pharmacies to sell authorized COVID-19 antigen test kits starting from Sept. 27.

The policy exemption comes as the government considers employing those same test kits in a program that would ease anti-virus restrictions for those who tested negative for the novel coronavirus.

People can collect samples using the antigen test kits by swabbing their noses. They can get results within 15 to 30 minutes after dipping the swab into a tube filled with a reagent and putting drops of the reagent onto a kit.

Antigen test kits are a more convenient and easier way to check for the virus than polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, which require laboratory technicians and equipment, and take several hours to produce results.

However, antigen test kits are less accurate than the PCR method since they cannot detect the virus if the amount in the sample is too small. For that reason, the ministry is not recommending people who have no symptoms to use those test kits to confirm whether they are infected.

The ministry lifted its ban on selling antigen test kits at pharmacies to respond to requests from the government’s Council for the Promotion of Regulatory Reform to make it easier for people to access those test kits.

The ministry requires pharmacists to urge buyers of antigen test kits to continue taking anti-virus measures even if they test negative, given the possibility of false negatives.

Pharmacies can sell 15 kinds of antigen test kits that received regulatory approval for medical use. Unauthorized test kits for “research use” are being offered online at affordable prices, but officials have not confirmed whether they are accurate enough to detect the virus.

The ministry continues to advise against asymptomatic people relying on antigen test kits to determine whether they are infected.

But the government is considering using those kits in a program to be introduced as early as November to loosen anti-virus restrictions at bars and restaurants.

It would also allow easing caps on spectators at events for those who present proof they have been inoculated against COVID-19 or have received negative test results.