Japan closes 4,000 schools for swine flu

May 20, 2009

178 infections confirmed
Japan reported 178 swine flu infections yesterday and closed more than 4,000 schools, colleges and kindergartens for the rest of the week to slow the spread of the virus, officials said.
Experts warned that infections had probably already spread to other regions including the capital Tokyo, which with almost 36 million people is the world’s most populous urban area and the heart of the Japanese economy.
“The virus’s spread to Tokyo is near certain, and it would be little wonder if the virus had already landed in Tokyo undetected,” said Yukihiro Nishiyama, a virologist at Nagoya University in central Japan.
“Of course, there is no need to overreact, but authorities and people in the capital should go ahead with their preparation,” Nishiyama told AFP.
Visitors to many public places — from the parliamentary visitors’ gallery to the national sumo tournament in Tokyo — have been asked to disinfect their hands on entry, wear surgical face masks, or both.
Japan’s first domestic cases of the (A)H1N1 virus were confirmed Saturday in the western cities of Kobe and Osaka, where they spread quickly in and between two high schools that had met for a volleyball tournament.
Hundreds have since been tested for the virus, and face masks have become ubiquitous on subways and in shopping centres of the affected prefectures of Osaka and Hyogo in the central region of the main island of Honshu.
The government has urged calm and reminded people that no one in Japan has so far died of the disease and that most infections are mild.
A total of 4,043 kindergartens, schools, colleges and universities were closed for at least this week in the two prefectures at the request of the government, up from some 2,000 Monday, an education ministry official said.
Neighbouring Kyoto prefectures closed eight schools voluntarily.
Japan’s number of confirmed cases rose to 178 — the fourth largest national figure on the world infection table, according local authorities.
Japan’s first confirmed cases of swine flu were four people who tested positive after they flew in from North America earlier this month. They were immediately quarantined along with about 50 fellow passengers.
The central government has been revising its anti-virus measures, which previously focused on stopping infected persons at the borders and quarantining them before they could leave the airports.
“Day by day, we have to change what action we should take,” Health Minister Yoichi Masuzoe told a news conference, adding that the ministry may scale down airport quarantine measures gradually.
Finance Minister Kaoru Yosano said the government was ready to take action to fend off a possible impact of the outbreak on the Japanese economy already battered by the worst recession since World War II.
“Economies obviously declined — although temporarily — when a bird flu outbreak occurred,” Yosano told reporters. “We have to consider measures to limit the effect.”

Courtesy of Afp, Kobe

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