NARITA, Chiba Pref. (Kyodo) A woman aboard a Northwest Airlines flight that arrived Thursday at Narita International Airport from Los Angeles has tested positive for influenza in a preliminary examination, sources with the airport operator said.

The 25-year-old Japanese woman was transported from the airport by ambulance to Japanese Red Cross Narita Hospital. She walked into the hospital accompanied by quarantine officers in protective suits.

Further tests were being performed Thursday evening, with the results expected by Friday morning, the health ministry said.

UPDATE: The test for the new H1N1 strain produced negative results. See related story.

Around 20 other passengers who were seated near the woman were taken to a hotel by bus so they could be monitored for symptoms, the sources said.

If the woman is confirmed to have the deadly swine-avian-human flu virus originally spotted in Mexico, it would mark Japan’s first exposure to the epidemic, which appears to be spreading worldwide.

Earlier Thursday, health minister Yoichi Masuzoe said “fever clinics” will be established at select medical institutions nationwide to solely treat people suspected of being infected with the new influenza.

“We will work to protect the lives and health of the people without fail by strengthening the current state of preparedness as we find it necessary,” Masuzoe said, urging the public not to panic but to act calmly and pay attention to the latest news reports.

He had said Japan had yet to obtain a sample of the virus strain but will begin producing a vaccine as soon as it receives one and establish a structure to track the antiviral drugs in stock.

Prime Minister Taro Aso, during his visit to Beijing, called Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura in the morning and told him to work on the issue with all resources.

Aso said the epidemic is “an extremely serious situation from the viewpoint of national crisis management,” Kawamura told reporters.

Before the briefing, the government convened a director general-level meeting of its new flu task force with Kawamura and Masuzoe in attendance to discuss what additional steps, if any, to take in response to the upgraded Phase 5 pandemic alert issued by the World Health Organization.

“The government will not fundamentally change its present policy immediately because of the upgrading of the alert phase, but will thoroughly carry out preventive measures to keep the flu at bay,” Kawamura said.

The government does not intend to advise the people to postpone travel to countries affected by the flu other than Mexico at the moment, he added.

The government will proceed with preparations to set up the fever clinics, which are aimed at preventing in-hospital infections, at select hospitals across the country.

The government meanwhile introduced a blanket inspection system Thursday for pigs imported for breeding and other purposes after the WHO raised its pandemic alert level to Phase 5, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said.

Japan had previously been inspecting only pigs that showed abnormal symptoms such as coughing and having a fever at quarantine stations during the 15-day period designated for checkups.

The new influenza mutated from swine flu and originated in Mexico. In the face of an increase in confirmed cases of the new influenza reported worldwide, the farm ministry has decided to broaden quarantine controls on all imported pigs to prevent possible human infection with the disease through the animals.

Based on the decision, the ministry will conduct thorough inspections on 15 pigs imported from Canada in mid-April that were ready to be shipped after the regular checkup period ended.

Asked about whether Japan will suspend pig imports, farm minister Shigeru Ishiba said Japan is planning to continue importing the animals while stepping up quarantine inspections for the flu.

Pigs are imported once every month or two. The ministry says Japan plans to import around 330 pigs in total from six countries from May onward.

Mexico tours ‘finito’

Kyodo News

Ten major Japanese travel agencies have canceled all tours to Mexico, the epicenter of the widening global flu epidemic, the Japan Tourism Agency said Thursday.

Some tourists have also decided to cancel trips to other infected areas in line with a Foreign Ministry travel warning issued Thursday for those visiting nine other affected countries — the United States, Canada, Spain, New Zealand, Israel, Britain, Germany, Austria and Costa Rica, travel agencies said.

The epidemic is certain to pour cold water on the exodus of travelers during the Golden Week holidays, which get into full swing Saturday.

JTB Corp. said it has canceled tours to Mexico until the end of June, affecting 400 travelers, and will refund expenses.

The other nine include Hankyu Travel International Co., H.I.S. Co., Kinki Nippon Tourist Co. and JALPAK Co.

Meanwhile, museums, movie theaters and sports stadiums began preparations to counter a possible outbreak.

The National Art Center Tokyo in Minato Ward, which has 7,000 to 10,000 visitors daily, placed 10 disinfectants at its entrances and exits and doubled its stock of medical masks for staff to 4,000 Thursday. The museum may close if the flu spreads in Japan.

Mori Building Co., operator of the Roppongi Hills commercial complex, said it has set up an in-house influenza task force to consider measures.

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