Airport disregards SARS info

Critics question effectiveness of quarantine system

Kyodo

Kansai International Airport’s quarantine station failed to properly deal with information it received that a Taiwanese doctor who had traveled Japan had developed SARS, even though it received the news one day ahead of the health ministry, sources said Tuesday.

An Osaka doctor informed the quarantine station Thursday night over the phone that the 26-year-old Taiwanese doctor had been quarantined after he returned to Taiwan, by way of the airport, because he exhibited SARS-like symptoms.

But a station official made no note of the information and did not convey it to other station officials, the sources said.

On Friday morning, the Osaka doctor informed the Osaka Prefectural Government by phone and fax. The information was then forwarded to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.

The ministry informed the public about the case the same day. Quarantine stations are under the health ministry’s supervision.

Observers say the quarantine system is not strict enough about dealing with SARS-related information.

“It is important to quickly react to various information, and I have issued instructions on this,” said health minister Chikara Sakaguchi.

The Taiwanese doctor, who was diagnosed with SARS after he returned to Taipei on May 13, had been on a package tour.

According to the media in Taiwan, the doctor had treated two SARS patients at a Taipei hospital on May 4 and 5 before he joined the tour on May 8.

Governor irked

Staff report

OSAKA — Osaka Gov. Fusae Ohta expressed dissatisfaction Tuesday about how the quarantine station at Kansai International Airport apparently mishandled information about a SARS-infected Taiwanese doctor.

“The quarantine station should have notified the health ministry immediately (after receiving the information),” she said. “We should make every effort to respond quickly.”

Ohta added that she will ask the central government Thursday in Tokyo to transfer more authority to local governments so they can effectively deal with SARS cases.

Ohta said she will make four requests to government ministers. Among other things, she proposed that when SARS cases are confirmed, local governments be allowed to take the initiative in dealing with the situation so that effective measures can be taken swiftly.

“The authority of such operations as tracking down people and facilities that (people infected with) SARS visited, disinfecting the areas and making public up-to-date information should be given to local governments, which have the responsibility of protecting the safety of residents and easing their concerns,” Ohta said.

Other requests include that information on SARS cases be quickly disclosed. together with safety measures; consideration of compensation measures for hotels, restaurants and other businesses the SARS-infected Taiwanese doctor had visited, as they are suffering heavy financial damage; and asking that other countries and regions that have SARS cases conduct stricter departure controls.