As the new coronavirus threatens to spread through Japan, hotlines for virus-related consultations are being flooded with requests from concerned people who want to be tested.
While some government authorities have taken steps to handle the situation, including by adding telephone capacity, others are expected to struggle with the growing number of inquiries.
A surgeon in Wakayama Prefecture tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday, becoming the first doctor in Japan confirmed to have been infected.
A public health center in the city of Wakayama, the prefectural capital, had been receiving an average of 10 requests a day for consultations in relation to the virus since late January.
On Friday, however, the center received 46 requests in just the first hour the hotline was open.
The city hastily increased the number of phone lines from four to 10 to handle the influx.
Many calls were from citizens voicing concerns about the spread of the virus and how to get tested.
“We ask citizens to check information and take appropriate action without being overly worried,” an official from the Wakayama Municipal Government said. “We’ll work hard to dispel the concerns.”
Sapporo started a consultation service Friday. The city saw visitors to this year’s Sapporo Snow Festival fall 26 percent compared to last year due to a plunge in the number of tourists from China.
It also received inquiries from anxious residents saying that they had developed fevers after returning from trips, and asking what to do after they found themselves unable to buy face masks or disinfectant.
Yokohama saw a surge in the number of requests from citizens wanting to be tested for the virus after Japan reported its first confirmed death from COVID-19. The victim was a woman in Kanagawa Prefecture.
At present, virus tests are granted only to those meeting certain conditions, such as individuals who recently visited China’s Hubei Province or had close contact with people with such travel histories.
A Yokohama government official said that the city did not have enough “test kits to remove the worries of people displaying symptoms.”
The official highlighted the need for simple test kits, like those that are available for influenza.
The health ministry and prefectural governments also operate hotlines.
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