The government is set to ramp up preventive measures against cases of pneumonia caused by the deadly new coronavirus, which originated in China, by classifying it as a legally designated infectious disease.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said his Cabinet will take the step as early as Tuesday, which will be the first such designation since Middle East Respiratory Syndrome struck worldwide in 2014.

Here is an overview of how the designated infectious disease system works.

What are designated infectious diseases?

Except for new infectious diseases and novel influenza infections, infectious diseases are basically categorized into five classes in Japan. Designating a disease as Class 1 or 2 allows the government to forcibly place patients in quarantine.

Class 1 diseases are the most dangerous and include Ebola and Lassa fever, both hemorrhagic fevers.

When an outbreak occurs of an already-known epidemic that is not as deadly as Class 1, 2 or 3 but could pose a significant threat to public health should it spread widely, the government can label it as a legally designated infectious disease for one year.

What kinds of steps does the one-year designation allow the government to take?

The designation gives the government legal power to take the same levels of precautions that can be implemented for Class 1 or Class 2 diseases.

For example, the government can legally order infected patients to be hospitalized and impose restrictions on their work activities to prevent further spread of a disease.

Medical costs for such patients are funded by the taxpayer.

What infectious diseases have been designated in the past?

In 2013 and 2014, the government took the same measure in response to outbreaks of the H7N9 virus and MERS, respectively.

Other past examples include the H5N1 bird flu virus in 2006 and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome in 2003.

A designated disease can be added to one of the five classes during or after the one-year period.

The SARS, MERS, H5N1 and H7N9 viruses are now listed as Class 2.

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