January 31, 2020 / 1:48 AM / 20 days ago

UPDATE 4-Japan speeds up anti-virus measures, advises against travel to China

(Adds details, updates number of confirmed cases)

By Kiyoshi Takenaka and Elaine Lies

TOKYO, Jan 31 (Reuters) - Japan advised its citizens on Friday to put off non-urgent travel to China and brought forward special measures to stem the spread of a new coronavirus believed to have originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

Japan had 17 confirmed cases as of Friday evening. The public broadcaster NHK said one was a woman who had worked as a guide on a bus tour for tourists from China - the same tour as a bus driver who also came down with the virus.

The other two were on a plane of Japanese repatriated from Wuhan on Thursday. A third plane arrived on Friday morning.

The government classified the new virus as a “designated infectious disease” on Tuesday, but the resulting actions - including compulsory hospitalisation and the use of public funds for treatment - were brought forward by six days to Saturday.

Ten of the 149 people on Friday’s flight felt unwell upon arriving in Japan, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference.

As worries grew over a further spread of the disease, the government said it would refuse entry to foreigners infected and consider stricter screening for suspected cases.

“We decided on these changes in view of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) declaration of a global emergency,” Suga said.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told parliament the government had decided to advise citizens to avoid non-urgent trips to all of China, not merely Wuhan’s Hubei province.

He also told a virus taskforce that foreigners who have been to Hubei in the past two weeks will be refused entrance to Japan.

TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS

The president of the Japanese airline ANA Holdings said it was considering suspending flights to China, Jiji news agency reported. Kyodo news agency said JTB Corporation, Japan’s largest travel agency, said it was suspending tours to China throughout February.

The third flight out of Wuhan brought the total number of repatriated nationals to 565. Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said Japan was making arrangements to repatriate all Japanese who wanted to return from Wuhan and surrounding areas, but that a fourth plane was unlikely to be dispatched this week.

The government has been accused in parliament of handling the returned Japanese ineptly, notably by letting two asymptomatic people from the first flight refuse testing and “self quarantine”, though by Friday they had consented.

Health Minister Katsunobu Kato told a parliamentary committee that the government was doing everything it could while still respecting human rights.

The government plans to use public facilities such as training centres to house the returnees. It may also use a ferry under contract to Japan’s self-defence forces.

Epidemiologist David Fisman, a professor at the University of Toronto, said there had so far been only 10 secondary infections among the more than 90 coronavirus cases outside China.

“That means the reproduction number outside China is currently less than 0.1. Diseases do not spark epidemics unless reproduction numbers are over 1,” he said.

Some social media users accused politicians of focusing too much on political scandals and this summer’s Tokyo Olympics.

“Now they say they’ll forbid entry to anybody who’s infected? It’s way too late for measures like that,” wrote user Tokyo Taro. “What is the government doing? Isn’t this more important than the Olympics? ($1 = 109.7000 yen) (Additional reporting by Ju-min Park, Sakura Murakami and Antoni Slodkowski, writing by Elaine Lies; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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