TOKYO - Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Monday that Japan will coordinate closely with the World Health Organization to prevent the recent outbreak of a new coronavirus from impacting the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics this summer.
The health ministry, meanwhile, will take phlegm from possible coronavirus patients to accurately determine whether they are actually infected with the deadly pneumonia-causing virus, ministry officials said.
The government is stepping up efforts to stem the spread of the virus, which originated in Wuhan in central China, with 20 cases of infection confirmed in Japan so far. Abe said the development of a rapid test kit for the virus is under way so more institutions, including private ones, can conduct screenings.
"We will closely work with the World Health Organization and others to make sure that preparations for the Olympics and Paralympics will steadily proceed without an impact (from the outbreak)," Abe told a parliamentary session.
Olympic organizers and relevant sports associations will meet, possibly later this week, to discuss how to respond to the new coronavirus and other infectious diseases, according to Olympics minister Seiko Hashimoto.
The increasing number of coronavirus infections, mainly in China but also in other parts of the world, has raised calls among ruling and opposition party lawmakers for the government to do more to protect the public.
"We have already embarked on the development of a simple test kit," Abe said. "As cases of infection in Japan are rising, it's an urgent task to improve testing (for the virus) and enhance consultation services."
The comments came in response to Fumio Kishida, the policy chief of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, who said that virus testing is currently conducted only at state-run or public institutions such as the National Institute of Infectious Diseases.
The government is attempting to make sure that people have access to medical services and supplies, including masks. Abe has instructed ministers to deal with the outbreak and its impact on the economy.
On Saturday, a man in his 80s was diagnosed with the virus after returning to Hong Kong on a cruise ship from Japan. The man flew to Japan from China on Jan. 17 and left Yokohama near Tokyo on the Diamond Princess cruise ship on Jan. 20, arriving in Hong Kong on Jan. 25.
After the ship, which can carry about 2,700 passengers, arrived at the port of Yokohama on Monday night, a passenger told Kyodo News that he had heard an announcement that quarantine officers would board and conduct medical tests.
The passenger was also told that the planned departure time from Yokohama would be delayed for 24 hours.
According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, doctors and nurses will board and check the health of all the passengers and crew.
Since Saturday, Japan has been barring foreign nationals who have been to Hubei in the two weeks prior to their arrival, as well as holders of Chinese passports issued in Hubei.
A total of eight foreigners were denied entry over the weekend, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said, without elaborating.
The increase in infections has boosted demand for masks in Japan, leading the industry and health ministries to call on domestic manufacturers to increase output, Suga told reporters.
The death toll from the virus in mainland China has reached 361, topping that of the 2002-2003 SARS pandemic, according to the country's health authorities.