• Kyodo, Staff Report

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The number of coronavirus cases in Japan rose to 20 on Saturday as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe instructed ministers to come up with additional steps to respond to the outbreak.

The health ministry said three more returnees from the virus-hit Chinese city of Wuhan have tested positive, in addition to the 17 cases of infection reported earlier, including some without symptoms. The three were among the Japanese nationals who returned on government-chartered flights last week.

Abe on Saturday stressed the need to make sure people across the country have access to necessary medical examinations and supplies, including masks, as infections have been confirmed in various parts of the country.

“I ask ministers to compile measures to use reserves (in the state budget) and implement them as soon as possible,” Abe told a meeting held at his office to discuss the government’s response to the outbreak.

“The new coronavirus is having a major impact on tourism, the economy and our society as a whole,” the prime minister said. “The government will do its utmost to address the impact.”

The government officially classified the virus as a designated infectious disease on Saturday, enabling authorities to enact, among other measures, compulsory hospitalization when necessary. Taxpayers’ money will cover the costs of treating patients forced to stay in hospitals.

To prevent the deadly virus from spreading further, foreign nationals who have been to Hubei province within two weeks — the virus’s estimated incubation period — prior to their arrival to Japan, will be barred. They are now required to declare at airports if they have been to Hubei during that period, Japanese officials said.

Holders of Chinese passports issued in the central Chinese province, the capital of which is the virus-hit city of Wuhan, will also be prohibited from entering the country in principle.

They are subject to the precautionary measures whether they display symptoms or not.

Government officials say it is not a blanket ban on holders of Hubei-issued Chinese passports, noting that exceptions will be made under special circumstances.

But it is still unclear, for instance, whether a case in which a person has a Chinese passport issued in Hubei but lives in a different province or country will warrant an exception. Uncertainty also remains over whether a Chinese national with a passport from Hubei who is married to a Japanese will be allowed to enter Japan.

The restrictions will remain in place “for the time being,” Abe said, with one immigration official saying, “It will depend on (the possibility of) an extensive outbreak.”

Still, during his meeting Saturday, Abe said the measures need to be strictly and properly enforced, adding that the government will also continue to check on the health of over 560 Japanese nationals who were evacuated this week from Wuhan on government-chartered flights. The government had come under fire both at home and abroad for not quarantining citizens returning from Wuhan. It had said taking such forceful actions could violate human rights and instead asked them to monitor and report their own health and stay home or in lodgings provided by the government for two weeks.

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