By Yawen Chen and Brenda Goh

BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s Hubei province, the coronavirus outbreak epicentre, has started using a faster and more convenient method of testing in order to isolate patients more quickly, the official People’s Daily reported on Friday.

Reuters reported last month that a lack of RNA test kits in Hubei capital Wuhan may have delayed patients from being properly diagnosed and treated, contributing to the spread of the virus in the early days of the outbreak.

Hubei will start recognising computerized tomography (CT) scan results as confirmation of suspected infections of the coronavirus, which has killed over 600 people in China, the newspaper said on its official Weibo account, citing a document published by the National Health Commission on Feb. 5.

The move could significantly shorten testing time and allow more prompt treatment in the province, doctors and epidemiologists said. Previously, China’s health authorities had a stricter rule for identifying such cases, and patients were often denied access to be treated full-time without RNA tests that could take days to process.

“The biggest advantage of CT scans is ‘fast’ – we can see the results immediately,” Qi Xiaolong, Professor of Medicine and Assistant Dean at the First Hospital of Lanzhou University, said in an email to Reuters.

“As we’re facing the shortage of virus test-kits in Wuhan and other virus-stricken areas near it (or the shortage of professional testing staff), current case-confirming procedures cannot meet the requirement of diagnosis and treatment,” he said, adding the quality of reagents and proficiency in sample retention could also affect the accuracy of the test results.

In contrast, CT scan results have proven highly reliable and can yield results in just minutes, Cheng Zhenshun, Director of the department of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine at the Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University, said earlier this week.

“We’ve finally seen this change happen,” a Wuhan Weibo user surnamed Zhang wrote in a post commenting on the news. “This will give patients a lot more confidence.”

(Reporting by Yawen Chen and Brenda Goh; Additional Reporting by Cheng Leng; Editing by William Maclean)