Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday revealed a plan to designate pneumonia caused by a new strain of coronavirus as a special infectious disease, with the aim of making it possible to provide urgent treatment to patients using public funds.
The designation will allow the government to adopt similar measures as those taken for SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) without amending the law.
These measures include the compulsory hospitalization of infected people at one of approximately 400 designated medical institutions in Japan, as well as disinfection of sites where the virus has been detected. Doctors will be obliged to report any patients who test positive for the virus.
A government official also said Monday that Japan will dispatch a chartered plane to the central Chinese city of Wuhan, possibly on Tuesday, to bring back citizens who wish to return home amid a deadly outbreak.
The government plans to have the plane fly multiple times from Narita Airport in Chiba Prefecture to Wuhan, as early as possible, pending negotiations with Chinese authorities.
The aircraft may also deliver relief supplies when flying toward the capital of Hubei Province if requested by China, the official said.
All Nippon Airways Co. said last week that it would suspend all flights between Wuhan, where the new virus was first identified, and Narita for the rest of January due to the outbreak. Direct flights usually connect Wuhan to around 50 cities in the world, including Tokyo and Osaka.
As of Friday, there were about 710 Japanese registered in the province, according to the Japanese government. Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi told a Diet panel Monday that Tokyo has confirmed some 560 Japanese live in the province.
Honda Motor Co. said Monday it will have some 30 people — its employees and their families who are now in Wuhan — board a government-chartered plane to send them home.
A few employees of the company will remain in the city to maintain the plants, which are not currently in operation due to the Lunar New Year holiday. It remains unclear whether the plants can resume operations following the break, a company source said.
Wuhan is known to have a thriving automobile industry and is home to manufacturing plants belonging to Japanese carmakers Nissan Motor Co. and Honda, as well as France’s Renault SA.
Japanese retail chain Aeon Co., which operates a mall in Wuhan, said it will evacuate some of the 12 Japanese staff there, using the government-chartered flight. The families of the employees have already returned to Japan, the company said.
Semiconductor equipment-maker Tokyo Electron Ltd. and logistics company Nippon Express Co. are among other Japanese firms that will take similar emergency steps.
For those who return home on the chartered plane, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government said it will offer health consultation at hospitals.
China has more than 2,700 confirmed cases of pneumonia caused by the virus, with at least 80 deaths and over 460 patients in a critical condition, according to the Chinese government.
The 11 million residents of Wuhan are in virtual lockdown as authorities seek to stop the spread of the virus.
In Japan, a fourth case of the virus has been confirmed, the health ministry said Sunday.
The patient is a man in his 40s who arrived in Japan on Wednesday as a tourist from Wuhan, the ministry said, adding he is in a stable condition.
The man is said to have had no symptoms at the time of arrival, but developed a fever Thursday and went to see a doctor the following day in Aichi Prefecture, according to the ministry.
The man was hospitalized in the prefecture and later tested positive for the virus, it said, adding he is said to have worn a mask while traveling.
Meanwhile, Motegi said it was not yet clear whether a Japanese national hospitalized in Wuhan with severe pneumonia had been infected with the virus.