National

Japan can contain outbreak in one month, health ministry team says

Jiji

A COVID-19 response team at the health ministry estimates that it will take about a month to bring the outbreak under control in the country if people reduce person-to-person contact by 80 percent.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared a state of emergency for Tokyo, Osaka and five other prefectures following a spike in confirmed cases of the disease. Experts have said that the time required to contain infections depends on the extent to which corporate and individual activities change.

The emergency declaration will remain in place until May 6. The duration was set based on an estimate by Hokkaido University Prof. Hiroshi Nishiura, who specializes in theoretical epidemiology and is a member of the health ministry’s response team.

According to Nishiura’s estimate, if person-to-person contact is slashed by 80 percent, the number of infections will fall sharply in some two weeks and the COVID-19 outbreak would be contained in about a month.

The estimate says that it would take three months for the country to achieve the virus’ containment if person-to-person contact is reduced by only 70 percent.

The ministry’s team said it was important to eliminate person-to-person contact in places prone to causing clusters of infections, reduce the number of people with whom individuals meet by 80 percent and have companies, excluding those involved in the maintenance of social functions, bring down people’s levels of contact in stages by 80 percent overall.

Toho University Prof. Kazuhiro Tateda, who is an infectious disease expert and serves as a member of a government expert panel, said the emergency declaration would be effective in containing clusters of infections at nightclubs and other similar locations as it urges such businesses to suspend operations.

Tateda also expects individuals to drastically reduce their likelihood of meeting with other people while the declaration is in effect.

Still, the extent to which overall corporate activities will change remains uncertain, although some companies have been promoting teleworking.

Kiyosu Taniguchi, head of the clinical research division at National Mie Hospital, said the top-priority issue was to have companies take effective response measures.

“Companies are confronted with the very difficult task of continuing their operations while reducing contact among their employees and the number of employees working at their offices,” Taniguchi said.

While assuming that the virus spread will continue for a long time even after the COVID-19 curve flattens in Tokyo, Osaka and the five other prefectures covered by the emergency declaration, Tateda said, “If we succeed this time, we should be able to bring the outbreak under control elsewhere.”

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