• Kyodo

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The government task force that is tracking group infections of the coronavirus stressed the need Wednesday to reduce human-to-human contact to contain the epidemic, saying 420,000 people in Japan could die in the absence of preventive measures.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry's team tasked with dealing with cluster infections of the pneumonia-causing virus said, however, that the nation is not expected to see its death toll reach those heights and that it will later release an estimate of how effective measures to reduce social contact have been in preventing infections in the country.

"We don't expect 400,000 or so people to die. We can stop the spread of this infectious disease if we drastically reduce contact between people," said Hiroshi Nishiura, Hokkaido University professor and a key member of the task force.

Nishiura has been calling for an 80 percent reduction in human-to-human contact to stem the rise in infections by the planned end of the state of emergency, in place through May 6 for Tokyo and six other prefectures.

According to the task force's simulation, 850,000 people could become seriously sick with COVID-19 if countermeasures are not taken.

The government is aiming for a reduction of at least 70 percent in human-to-human contact in the seven prefectures subject to the state of emergency declared on April 7 because of rising infections in those areas. Nishiura has called for an 80 percent cut to ensure new infections level off in one month.

Confirmed cases of coronavirus infections in Japan have exceeded 8,800 and there have been more than 170 deaths as of Tuesday.

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