Japan issues coronavirus medical guidance as infections rise

Kyodo News

Posted at Feb 17 2020 06:28 PM

Another 99 on cruise ship in Yokohama test positive for coronavirus

TOKYO - Japan's health ministry issued guidance Monday for when people with symptoms consistent with the new coronavirus should consult medical institutions, as the country steps up efforts to contain the outbreak.

The ministry is now encouraging people who have had a temperature of 37.5 C or higher for four days, are feeling lethargic or are experiencing shortness of breath to contact local authorities in charge of responding to the outbreak by telephone.

The government's guidance is intended to give those worried about contracting the virus an idea of when to seek an advice from a doctor. Elderly people and those with underlying conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure are viewed as more vulnerable to the respiratory disease, now officially named COVID-19.

The new coronavirus, which originated in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, has infected more than 510 people in Japan, including 454 people quarantined on a cruise ship, and a government panel of medical experts has said the country is at an early stage of infection.

The United States flew two chartered flights from Tokyo's Haneda airport on Monday morning to evacuate hundreds of its citizens from the cruise ship hit by the new coronavirus that has been quarantined in Yokohama. Japan also evacuated more of its nationals as well as their family members from Wuhan and surrounding areas.

With infections climbing, Japan is scrambling to strengthen its virus testing capabilities and prepare medical facilities to treat infected people.

Speaking at a press conference, health minister Katsunobu Kato noted that people with colds or influenza tend to see their health recover after three to four days on average while those infected with the new coronavirus do not.

Kato also asked individuals who have developed cold-like symptoms to keep track of their temperature and refrain from going to work or school.

Hundreds of U.S. citizens from the Diamond Princess left Yokohama port near Tokyo around 1:40 a.m. Monday on 10 Japanese Self-Defense Forces coaches with drivers in protective suits.

Among the evacuees, 44 tested positive for the virus, The Washington Post said, quoting Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Fauci told CBS news that those who tested positive are "going to be in hospitals in Japan," adding, "the degree of transmissibility on that cruise ship is essentially akin to being in a hot spot."

The 328 evacuees who were allowed to board the U.S.-chartered flights will be quarantined for 14 days and housed at Travis Air Force Base in California or Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in Texas.

Japan had been in contact with the United States about the possibility of evacuating the U.S. citizens since the early stages of the quarantine that began on Feb. 3, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said.

"We understand that the United States has made its own decision after comprehensively taking into account such factors as reducing the burden on our country," Abe told a parliamentary session.

Australia, Canada, Hong Kong and Israel have also said they are preparing to send chartered flights to Japan to evacuate their citizens from the vessel. Around 3,000 passengers and crew remain on the ship.

Medical and other staff who may have had close contact with those aboard the ship have also contracted the virus, with a Japanese health ministry official in his 50s who worked as a liaison on the vessel hospitalized after testing positive for the virus.

In a separate case in Kanagawa Prefecture near Tokyo, a nurse who had taken care of a woman in her 80s who later became the first domestic fatality of the viral outbreak last week was also confirmed as infected with the virus.

The nurse in her 40s developed a fever and vomited on Friday. She took a virus test the following day due to her close contact with the elderly woman who died Thursday, according to the local government.

Abe told parliament that the government plans to start airing TV commercials to raise awareness about the new coronavirus later Monday, while it will also strive to provide more information in English.

Japan's fifth chartered flight to evacuate its nationals from Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, arrived at Haneda airport Monday morning. On the Boeing 767 were 36 Japanese citizens and 29 family members who are Chinese.

All Japanese citizens and their family members of other nationalities in Hubei Province who had wished to return to Japan have done so. The government believes its evacuation operation using chartered flights is complete, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Of the 65 passengers, 13 were aged 12 or younger and six were aged 60 or above. Twenty-eight of the evacuees were residents of Wuhan, while 37 were from other cities in the province.

They will undergo screening and those without symptoms will stay at a state facility in Saitama Prefecture, north of Tokyo, the government said.

The government will continue to provide support to ensure the safety of those who remain in the Chinese province as well as travelers, the ministry said.

A total of 828 people returned to Japan on the five chartered flights.