Japanese quarantine inspectors Wednesday boarded the first direct flight from Mexico since the alert for a global influenza pandemic was raised to an unprecedented level.
Narita airport quarantine officials said no passengers or crew members apparently contracted swine flu.
Seven inspectors wearing protective clothing and masks walked through the arrival gate and onto an Aeromexico flight that arrived at 6:30 a.m. with 185 passengers and 13 crew members aboard.
A Japanese man who complained of throat pain was briefly isolated until a simple test administered on the scene returned a negative result.
Passengers said about 20 people seated near the man protested when an inspector informed them they would likely have to remain on board for six hours if the result was positive. Eventually, all the passengers and crew deplaned the Boeing 777 about an hour after arrival.
Among the passengers were Japanese families living in Mexico, as well as a Japanese professional boxer who regularly fights in the country. A 38-year-old housewife whose husband is still in Mexico said she flew back to Japan with her two daughters.
“Our children’s Japanese school was closed. As the alert level was raised, we decided to return to Japan,” she said.
Another passenger, Keiko Yanagisawa, 35, a diving instructor in Mexico, said she was surprised at the strict inspection upon arrival.
“I heard that we would be checked after arrival, but I didn’t think the inspection could be this strict,” she said.
The boxer, Tomoki Kameda, estimated that about one in 10 people were wearing masks in Mexico City shortly before he cut short his training and fight schedule to leave the country.
“I was wearing a mask myself because I was worried (about the flu). My family got worried, too, so I returned to Japan ahead of schedule,” said the 17-year-old Kameda, the youngest of the popular Kameda boxing brothers.
Officers from the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry began in-flight quarantine inspections Tuesday at Narita and Kansai airports after the World Health Organization raised the alert level to Phase 4 Monday, amid reports that the swine-avian-human flu epidemic was spreading on a global scale.
Phase 4 is characterized by verified human-to-human transmissions of the virus and can cause community-level outbreaks. It is two levels shy of the highest, Phase 6, which is issued for a full-blown global pandemic.
Cuba and Argentina have reportedly suspended direct flights from Mexico because of the flu outbreak.
Meanwhile, health minister Yoichi Masuzoe renewed the call for calm in response to threat of the disease.
“I advise you to wash your hands and gargle when you get home, and you should go to hospitals or clinics or consult with public health centers if you have the smallest of worries about the flu,” Masuzoe said in a speech at a trade union rally in Tokyo. “You’re required to behave calmly.”
Away from the airports, many enjoyed the first day of the Golden Week holiday.
At Tokyo Disneyland, a 60-year-old man accompanied by his grandchildren said he is not worried as nobody in Japan has been confirmed or suspected of having the flu.
Movie theaters in Tokyo were also packed.
“I feel like the pandemic is happening somewhere far away from Tokyo,” said a 37-year-old female office worker who came to a movie theater in Hibiya.
In Mexico, where the influenza originated, 2,498 people have been confirmed infected or are suspected of being so. At least 159 of them have died. Outbreaks of the new flu in humans have also been confirmed in the United States, New Zealand, Canada, Britain, Spain and Israel, while suspected cases have been reported in more than 10 countries, including in Europe, Asia and Latin America.
N.Z. fears tourist fall
WELLINGTON (Kyodo) New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, during talks Wednesday with visiting Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone, voiced concern over a possible drop in Japanese tourists to the country due to the outbreak of swine flu, Japanese officials said.
Key, who also doubles as tourism minister, said the New Zealand government has taken steps to prevent swine flu from spreading at an early stage and called for efforts by Tokyo to avoid a decline in Japanese travelers to the country, the officials said.
More than 10 people in New Zealand have been confirmed as being infected with the new flu that broke out in Mexico.
Nakasone also met with New Zealand counterpart Murray McCully and agreed to cooperate on information exchanges regarding antiflu measures, the officials said.
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