• Jiji

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The number of influenza patients in Japan this year remains at an unusually low level, which health ministry officials attribute to actions taken to prevent infection with the novel coronavirus, such as hand-washing and wearing face masks.

According to the ministry, only seven influenza cases were reported in the two weeks to Sept. 13. The figure is less than a thousandth of the year-before total and about a hundredth of the average-year level.

In September every year, the ministry starts disclosing the number of influenza patients following reports from about 5,000 medical institutions across Japan.

This year, the number came to three in the week to Sept. 6 and four in the following week. There were two patients in Chiba Prefecture, and one each in Gifu, Kyoto, Osaka, Hyogo and Okinawa prefectures.

By contrast, the number stood at 3,813 in the first week of September last year and 5,738 in the second week for a total of 9,551, reflecting an outbreak in Okinawa Prefecture. In usual years, the total in the period stands at several hundred to 2,000.

Explaining the steep falls, a senior ministry official said heightened attention to hygiene among people apparently played a key role.

The estimated number of influenza patients in the last season, from September last year to April this year, plunged some 40 percent from a year earlier to about 7.29 million. The fall apparently reflects people’s efforts to prevent infection with the novel coronavirus following the discovery of the first infection case in Japan in January, ministry officials said.

The drop also stemmed from a steep fall in the number of visitors from abroad due to entry restrictions amid the coronavirus crisis, the officials said. In particular, the number of visitors from the Southern Hemisphere, which has recently been in the epidemic season of winter, was small, the officials noted.

Still, it is difficult to predict the course of influenza infection this season, as the disease usually starts spreading in November and December and reaches a peak in January and February.

“Despite the low patient count at present, we should never let our guard down,” the senior ministry official said. “This year, a simultaneous spread (of influenza) with the new coronavirus is feared. We want people to wash their hands and take other (preventive) measures more thoroughly than in usual years.”

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