Okinawa to Taiwanese: please don’t vacation here

Kyodo

Authorities in Okinawa on Tuesday asked their counterparts in Taiwan to urge Taiwanese to stay away until SARS risks subside.

Okinawa Vice Gov. Shigemasa Higa delivered the written request to the Naha office of an Okinawa-Taiwan cultural exchange association, the island’s de facto mission in the prefecture.

The document, addressed to Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry, requested that Taiwanese “refrain from nonessential or non-urgent visits to Okinawa.” The prefecture also urged Taiwan’s authorities to step up efforts to contain the spread of the virus.

Choei Yogi, a senior Okinawa Prefecture official, said the prefecture needs to take steps to ease the health concerns of local residents. Okinawa’s move follows news that a SARS-infected Taiwanese doctor recently traveled throughout western Japan.

Taiwan has been designated by the World Health Organization as one of the areas heavily hit by the epidemic.

Okinawa and Taiwan are linked by direct air flights and cruise ship services, and Okinawa had 130,000 visitors from Taiwan last year.

With the spread of SARS in Taiwan, Okinawan cities have asked airlines to suspend Taiwan flights. A local medical association has urged the prefectural government also to take steps to limit travel from Taiwan.

In Tokyo, health minister Chikara Sakaguchi said he wants people in SARS-infected areas who may have been in contact with suspected patients over the past 10 days to refrain from visiting Japan.

The minister said he particularly wants “people in the medical profession,” who have a high risk of such contact, to be extremely careful.

On Monday, Sakaguchi lodged a protest with Taiwan’s top representative to Japan over the actions of the Taiwanese doctor who took part in a sightseeing tour of Japan and later tested positive for SARS.

The health minister criticized the doctor for visiting Japan without waiting for an appropriate amount of time after coming into contact with SARS sufferers. He also knocked the doctor for continuing his trip even after coming down with a fever.