Japan to phase out onboard new-flu quarantine inspections

May 20, 2009 3:14 am 

TOKYO, May 19 — Quarantine inspections to find infection cases of a new strain of influenza aboard airplanes arriving in Japan from North America will be terminated as early as the end of this week after gradually being scaled down, health ministry officials said Tuesday.

The measure has been in place to prevent the entry of the H1N1 flu but the number of people infected with the new H1N1 strain of influenza in Japan reached 173 Tuesday after the Kobe municipal government confirmed 10 additional patients, including a 1-year-old girl.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura told a news conference that the quarantine inspections have been productive as they discovered four infection cases at Narita International Airport, near Tokyo.

''But we have to shift our focus to domestic measures in line with the spread (of the flu),'' Kawamura said. ''From this aspect, we think we need to scale down the operations (to prevent entry of the new flu).''

The government is now considering the timing of the termination, he added.

The four infection cases were discovered during the inspections at Narita among a group of Japanese students and teachers who returned from a trip to Canada via the United States earlier this month.

The quarantine inspections have been conducted aboard airplanes from the United States, Canada and Mexico that arrive at Narita, Kansai and Chubu airports.

Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Yoichi Masuzoe told a separate news conference, ''We can assume that the virus is spreading domestically already,'' referring to new-flu cases found in Hyogo and Osaka prefectures.

''We have to devote human resources to respond to such a situation,'' Masuzoe said.

Masuzoe also suggested the government will allow local governments to have more authority on taking measures to tackle the new influenza, such as hospitalizing patients and restricting people's movements or activities.

More than 9,500 people in 42 countries and regions have been infected with the new flu with 78 dead in 4 nations as of Tuesday morning Japan time. (PNA/Kyodo)

ALM/ebp

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