H7N9 defense measures prepared

Kyodo, JIJI

To defend against the H7N9 strain of bird flu rapidly spreading in China, governors will be authorized to “strongly advise” people who are sick or suspected of being infected with the disease to be hospitalized and to restrict their employment, according to countermeasures compiled Wednesday by a health ministry panel.

Those who ignore the orders will face punishment.

Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry officials said ordinances under the Infectious Disease Law and the Quarantine Law will be revised early next month.

The countermeasures state that patients or others working in the hospitality or food industries will be ordered to stay away from their jobs to prevent the virus from spreading if they are suspected of being infected.

The Infectious Disease Law allows the government to bypass ordinary procedures for taking emergency measures by designating infectious diseases as those likely to seriously affect human health. The panel proposed designating the H7N9 bird flu strain as one such disease.

The law states that avian influenza, including H7N9, is a Class 4 disease, the second-lowest ranking on the scale to five, based on degree of danger.

Once designated, an infectious disease can become subject to measures used to deal with Class 1 to 3 infections, including compulsory hospitalization and exclusion from the workplace, for up to two years.

The medical costs are covered by the government.

Similar measures were previously applied to combat the virulent H5N1 strain of bird flu and the SARS virus, but compulsory hospitalization was not used in those cases, the ministry said.

The designation is aimed at providing a way to rapidly respond to an H7N9 outbreak because the strain is suspected of having the potential to mutate into a form easily spread by humans. The designation will also ensure that a wider range of measures can be taken, a ministry official said.

The ministry also plans to designate the H7N9 strain as a quarantinable infectious disease under a separate law so that compulsory medical examinations can be conducted at ports of entry on suspected patients arriving from China.

Any bids at obstruction are punishable by a fine of up to ¥500,000.