Special law on new flu enforced

JIJI

A special law will be enforced from this weekend to combat the spread of new, highly virulent forms of influenza, after the death toll in China from the H7N9 bird flu strain reportedly rose to 10, the Cabinet said in a meeting Friday.

Once the law, which was enacted last April, goes into effect Saturday, the government will present a draft action plan, including steps to prevent infections and appropriate medical measures, to a panel of experts Tuesday. Based on this blueprint, which is expected to be finalized in late May at the earliest, prefectural governments will draw up more concrete plans to protect residents.

Under the law, the health minister announces the outbreak of a new flu virus in line with, for example, a declaration by the World Health Organization of a Phase 4 pandemic alert level — the third-highest in the U.N. body’s six-phase scale and confirming human-to-human transmission of a new influenza stain of animal origin.

Even if such a transmission is discovered, a limited level will not prompt the government to take measures under the special law. The WHO has so far confirmed no human-to-human infection in the H7N9 avian influenza cases reported in China.

In the event of an outbreak of a lethal new strain, the government will set up a task force and, if necessary, strengthen quarantine measures at airports and other pertinent locations. It will also consider boosting vaccine production and vaccinating medical staff as a priority.

The prime minister will declare a state of emergency if certain conditions are met, such as confirmation of new domestic influenza infections with more serious symptoms than seasonal flu. The government will then consider vaccinating all the people.

The law also allows prefectural governors to curtail certain rights to prevent infections, including restrictions on the use of facilities such as theaters and assembly halls.