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Japan Takes Measures to Prevent SARS (June 9, 2003)

medical staff
Medical staff practice using an isolator. (Jiji)
As severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), a new type of pneumonia, rages in wide areas of Asia and other places, the Japanese government has been busy taking measures to prevent an outbreak from occurring in Japan. The government has urged people to take caution in traveling to affected areas, and it has been making every effort to prevent SARS from entering Japan. In addition, work is progressing on a system in which medical institutions, national and local governments, and corporations will act together to prevent the spread of SARS in the event of an outbreak in Japan. As a result of these efforts, as of June 9, there have been no confirmed or probable cases of SARS in Japan.

Plans Already Developed for Dealing with Patients
On May 1 the government brought the heads of the relevant ministries and agencies together for a first-ever meeting devoted to SARS in order to decide what measures should be taken in the event that someone in Japan is found to be infected with the virus. The group decided to call on people returning from China to stay at home for 10 days, which is believed to be the incubation period for the disease. Taking this into consideration, the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare made plans for taking action in the event of an outbreak. It decided to give local governments the authority to direct people believed likely to be infected, or "probable patients," to hospitalize themselves. In the event that a patient refuses, the local governments are empowered to forcibly hospitalize the person.

Local governments are readying themselves to accept patients. According to a survey conducted by the Nihon Keizai Shimbun in early May, all of the nation's 47 prefectures had already completed action plans spelling out what measures would be taken in the event of an outbreak. In addition, some 250 medical institutions around the country have made such preparations as setting up "negative air-pressure rooms" to prevent the virus from spreading within the hospital or to the outside. Local governments in such places as Kitakyushu City, Hokkaido, and Mie Prefecture have been purchasing capsules called isolators to be used when suspected SARS patients are moved, and they have conducted drills on how to use them with volunteers playing the role of patients.

In May a foreign traveler who had been to Japan was found to be infected with SARS. When this was discovered, the government and local authorities quickly implemented emergency measures, as a result of which no secondary infections occurred. According to a survey conducted by the Asahi Shimbun, 28 local governments out of the 47 prefectures and 13 major cities in Japan, nearly half the total, were rethinking their plans to cope with a potential SARS outbreak in light of this news. Fukushima Prefecture decided to check whether visitors from abroad have come from an area to which the World Health Organization recommends postponing travel. It will also make use of the local hotels association to determine the previous whereabouts of such guests. Kagawa Prefecture, meanwhile, which had previously only planned for people who had come in close contact with SARS patients, defined as having been within 2 meters, has created an action plan for checking on people who have had even a low possibility of coming in contact with a carrier.

Public and Private Sectors Taking Action
The Japanese government is stepping up its efforts to take rapid, nationwide measures to prevent SARS infection. The Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare has accelerated revision of the Infectious Disease Law, for example. And while local governments are the first line of defense in tracking the path of infection and following up on people who may have been exposed, the national government will become directly involved in the event that infection spreads outside of a local area. Japan is also actively engaged in international cooperation aimed at preventing the spread of SARS.

The private sector has also been taking action to prevent the spread of SARS and to reassure travelers. West Japan Railway Co. (JR West) has set up a SARS-response headquarters and is considering disinfecting affected carriages in the event that an infected person is found to have been onboard a certain train at a certain time. The company also decided to publicly release information on the time and route traveled by any SARS patients. Orient Ferry, which runs a ferry route from Shimonoseki to China's Qingdao, has since late April requested that all passengers and crew fill out health questionnaires, and the company has trained staff for what to do in the event that a passenger falls ill with SARS while onboard. The terminal in Qingdao, the shuttle bus, and the inside of the ship are all disinfected every day.

Meanwhile, some companies have taken the step of postponing scheduled business trips to affected areas, and, in response to requests by the government, airlines and ship operators whose vessels operate in Japan are distributing health questionnaires to their staff and passengers.

Japan has avoided SARS so far, and there is every reason to be confident that the country will remain free of the disease. Even if an outbreak did occur, the concerted efforts of local and national governments and private enterprises to prepare for such an eventuality suggest that it would be handled quickly and efficiently.

Note: The government's "Measures upon Entry/Return to Japan" for travelers heading to Japan can be found here. (

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Related Web Sites
the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare
Kitakyushu City
Mie Prefecture
World Health Organization
West Japan Railway Co. (JR West)

Copyright (c) 2004 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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