Prime Minister Shinzo Abe revealed Monday that he had instructed officials to increase supplies needed to test people for the new coronavirus 2019-nCoV and arrange for more facilities where testing can be conducted.
During a Lower House Budget Committee session Monday, the prime minister said the government has already begun developing a portable testing kit for the virus, which has caused cases of pneumonia that have often been fatal.
The government, he added, is making arrangements for 2019-nCoV testing to be performed not only at the National Institute of Infectious Diseases and public health centers, but also at private testing facilities.
“As the number of confirmed cases within the country grows, I recognize that the expansion of testing infrastructure and consultation systems are urgent matters,” Abe said. “The situation is changing by the moment. The government will continue to make decisions and implement necessary measures without hesitation, as our highest priority is to protect Japanese citizens’ lives and health.”
The announcement was the latest effort aimed at quelling fears about the virus taking hold in Japan. The number of confirmed cases in China continues to rise. Both opposition and ruling party lawmakers have chided the government, saying that its initial response was slow.
Partially in response to those admonishments, Abe had previously announced that Japan would ban foreign nationals who have been to China’s Hubei province within 14 days before their arrival and all those who hold Chinese passports issued there from Saturday. The new virus is believed to have originated in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province. Eight people had been denied entry due to the restrictions as of Sunday, Suga said at a news conference Monday afternoon.
At the Diet, Justice Minister Masako Mori said about 1,700 foreign nationals entered Japan via direct flights between Jan. 20 and Jan. 23, when direct flights were suspended. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently believes that symptoms of the virus appear within 2 to 14 days after exposure. Mori also said that about 34,180 Chinese nationals had entered the country between Jan. 20 and Feb. 1.
In the debate, opposition lawmaker Mitsunori Okamoto called for all those who had entered Japan prior to Jan. 23 to be screened but Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said the existing health monitoring system was sufficient.
At a news conference, Suga said a quarantine inspection would take place on a private cruise ship scheduled to enter Yokohama port Tuesday, after a passenger who disembarked in Hong Kong on Jan. 25 was found to be infected with the coronavirus. Kyodo News reported that the 80-year-old man had boarded the Diamond Princess in Yokohama on Jan. 20. The cruise shop operator, Carnival Japan, Inc., declined to confirm the number of passengers aboard to The Japan Times, but Kato, the health minister, told lawmakers he had received a report that several people on the ship had said they were not feeling well.
As of Monday afternoon, the number of confirmed cases worldwide was 17,389, with the overwhelming majority in China. The death toll in China had risen to 361, surpassing the toll from Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. In Japan, the number of confirmed cases remained at 20.
The outbreak has been declared by the World Health Organization as a global health emergency, but obstacles remain for government efforts to deal with the situation. Suga acknowledged Monday that a fourth charter flight to repatriate about 140 Japanese who had expressed a wish to return from areas close to Wuhan, the center of the outbreak, would not fly until later this week.
Last week, a total of 565 Japanese nationals flew back to Tokyo on three charter flights. Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi disclosed Monday that seven Japanese citizens were prohibited from boarding the flights after predeparture medical screening.
A majority of the returnees are staying in lodgings provided by the government. In addition to a hotel and a government agency’s training facilities, Defense Minister Taro Kono has instructed his ministry to make space available on a privately owned vessel chartered by the Self-Defense Forces to offer further accommodation.
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