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Hepatitis B sufferers suing the government decided Saturday to accept a court-proposed settlement plan on condition the state apologizes and offers them blanket compensation, they said.

The move will help end a series of damages suits filed nationwide by hepatitis B patients and virus carriers believed infected by repeated use of needles during group vaccinations decades ago, as the government has already expressed its willingness to accept a proposal by the Sapporo District Court that it pay compensation.

“It was a tough decision, but we decided to accept the proposal to swiftly end this issue,” the plaintiffs said in a statement issued after meeting in Tokyo.

The government is considering enacting a special law to offer compensation to all the sufferers, including those not involved in the lawsuits. The group is estimated to number as many as 440,000 nationwide.

It remains unclear, however, how the government can secure the estimated ¥3.2 trillion needed to provide relief over the next 30 years.

“We have no plans yet at this moment” on how to cover the compensation package, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters in Naha, Okinawa Prefecture, where he was visiting. “We are in the final stage of discussions.”

Earlier this month, the Sapporo District Court proposed that the government pay ¥12.5 million to ¥36 million in damages to hepatitis B patients depending on their condition, as well as ¥500,000 each in compensation plus expenses for health checkups and transportation to asymptomatic carriers who have not developed any symptoms.

The vaccination law was put into effect in 1948 with the aim of preventing the spread of infectious diseases such as diphtheria and tuberculosis, and mass vaccinations began for children at schools. Needles are believed to have been used repeatedly until around the 1980s.

In June 2006, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of five plaintiffs infected with hepatitis B who had filed a damages suit against the state in 1989, recognizing they contracted the virus through mass vaccinations.

Since the state failed to work out any broad, specific relief measures for hepatitis B sufferers, however, a total of 630 people since March 2008 filed suits with 10 district courts across Japan.

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