• Kyodo News

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The health ministry has shortened the quarantine period from 10 days to seven for people seated near airline passengers with swine flu.

In addition to relaxing the measure aimed at preventing the new strain of the H1N1 virus from spreading in Japan, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry also shortened the medical observation period through local public health institutes to seven days for people who had close contact with the flu patients and people who happened to be on the same flights.

The observation period is conducted if such people had already left the airport after arriving from overseas by the time the infection was confirmed.

“Isolating them for 10 days at one location creates some inconveniences. We reached the conclusion based on experts’ opinions and medical checks on infected individuals,” health minister Yoichi Masuzoe said Wednesday.

The new rules apply to passengers who were on the same flight as three high school students and a teacher from Osaka Prefecture who developed Japan’s first confirmed cases of swine flu.

The end of their isolation at a hotel near Narita International Airport was changed to Friday afternoon instead of next Monday.

A government panel of experts said in a report released Wednesday that the quarantine period “was set at 10 days on the presumption that the virus is the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain. But the incubation period for the new flu ranges from one to seven days, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the symptoms of the four are consistent” with that observation.

“We are still able to maintain the effectiveness of our measures to stop the penetration of the epidemic even if the period is shortened to seven days,” the panel said.

Japan’s quarantine act allows authorities to forcibly detain people at hotels or elsewhere for up to 240 hours if they had close contact with individuals infected with contagious diseases by traveling together or sitting close to them.

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