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A city employee from Takamatsu, Kagawa Prefecture, dispatched for disaster relief efforts to Kumamoto Prefecture, has been found to be infected with the novel coronavirus, the Kumamoto government said Monday.

The employee from the city of Kagawa, a public health nurse in his 30s, had been assisting the management of evacuation centers set up at a junior high school in the city of Hitoyoshi and at a former high school in the town of Taragi, according to the Kumamoto Prefectural Government. He is not showing any symptoms.

A total of some 400 evacuees and relief workers from Kumamoto and other prefectures may have had contact with the man, according to authorities.

Kumamoto suffered widespread flood damage due to downpours caused by a seasonal rain front.

“The Takamatsu municipal employee was always wearing a face mask, so we believe the chance that he infected others at the evacuation centers is low,” a Kumamoto official said.

At the shelters, the nurse had checked the health condition of evacuees and set up cardboard beds, partitions and other facilities.

The nurse was confirmed positive in a PCR test conducted by the Takamatsu Municipal Government after his return from the disaster relief mission.

He was found negative in a second PCR test, conducted Monday afternoon, according to the city. He is now staying at a Kagawa Prefecture hospital designated as a medical institution for infectious disease treatment.

The man had close contact with two Kagawa Prefectural Government officials who worked with him in the same team at the disaster-hit areas and three members of a replacement relief team.

The two prefectural employees have tested negative for the virus, while the three replacement team members will undergo PCR tests soon.

Kumamoto Gov. Ikuo Kabashima says he wants more relief personnel from other prefectures to come and offer assistance, but while taking full precautions against COVID-19. | KYODO
Kumamoto Gov. Ikuo Kabashima says he wants more relief personnel from other prefectures to come and offer assistance, but while taking full precautions against COVID-19. | KYODO

Polymerase chain reaction tests were carried out on a total of 371 people staying at the shelters at Hitoyoshi and Taragi. By 5 p.m. Tuesday, 226 of the test-takers were confirmed negative for the virus, prefectural officials said. Test results for the 145 others will likely be available by Wednesday morning, they said.

In Kumamoto Prefecture, 49 novel coronavirus infection cases have so far been found, including three deaths. But it had no confirmed case as of Monday.

The Kumamoto Prefectural Government asked support staff from other prefectures to ramp up their infection prevention measures following the discovery of the Takamatsu official’s infection.

The Cabinet Office is calling on local governments operating disaster evacuation centers to make sure that evacuees and staff employees in charge of shelter operations thoroughly follow basic measures to prevent infection, such as washing hands frequently and covering mouths when coughing and sneezing.

At a hurriedly called news conference Monday night, Kumamoto Gov. Ikuo Kabashima asked evacuees at the two shelters to stay calm while showing his prefecture’s plan to have relief personnel from other prefectures take PCR tests before entering Kumamoto.

He called on the evacuees to make sure they wear face masks, wash hands and avoid the “three Cs” of closed, crowded and close-contact settings to prevent infection.

With disaster-affected areas facing manpower shortages, Kumamoto wants more relief personnel to come from other prefectures while taking strong measures to prevent infection, Kabashima said.

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