Towns, hospitals brace for epidemic

Kyodo News

Municipalities and hospitals intensified efforts nationwide Tuesday to prevent or minimize the impact of a possible outbreak of the deadly new flu from Mexico.

Local government officials said they are ready to ask for school closures, reduced corporate hours and stay-at-home curfews if a person infected with the new swine-avian-human flu virus shows up.

Yokohama set up a special task force Tuesday to deal with a potential outbreak and is looking to stockpile protective masks for distribution.

“As we expect to draw visitors to events commemorating the 150th anniversary of Yokohama port’s opening to the outside world, we must prioritize the safety of people who will gather here,” said Shuji Kobayashi, head of the task force.

At Yokohama port, quarantine officers said they are poised to board ships for inspections if crew members or passengers show such symptoms as coughing or fevers, although no ships from infected areas are scheduled to arrive at present.

Major transportation facilities are also gearing up for an outbreak. At Narita International Airport in Chiba Prefecture, many travelers were seen wearing masks.

“I’m worried. I’m taking a 1-year-old with me” to Florida to meet relatives, said Etsuko Matsushita, 59, from Fukuoka Prefecture, before departure.

Another traveler, a 67-year-old woman from Fukushima Prefecture who declined to give her name, said she brought about 10 masks for her and her husband’s trip to the Czech Republic, saying, “I think airports are most dangerous in terms of infection.”

Narita’s quarantine office decided the same day to conduct onboard inspections of not only direct flights from Mexico, but also flights from the United States and Canada. Its officers appeared very busy, with one complaining of a lack of staff.