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Editorial: Gov't must get Japan ready for possible spread of coronavirus

The Japanese government has classified the pneumonia caused by a new coronavirus originating from the Chinese city of Wuhan as a "designated infectious disease." This allows for compulsory hospitalization of patients and restrictions on their work. It is a significant step for the government as an initiative to prepare for a possible increase in the number of infected patients in Japan.

In China, more than 4,000 people have been infected with the new virus, with the death toll surpassing 100. The infections have spread across the country, and patients have also been reported in other Asian countries including Japan, Thailand and Vietnam, as well as in the United States, France and Australia. There are no signs the outbreak can be contained anytime soon, in spite of traffic lockdowns in Wuhan and other urban cities.

Cases in which infection has jumped from animals to humans, and then from humans to humans, have been confirmed in Wuhan. The new strain's incubation period is estimated to be one to 14 days, and it is said that those who have yet to develop symptoms can infect others.

One factor contributing to the steep rise in infections may be that there are possibly many patients with relatively mild symptoms compared to those of SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome. If so, it would be extremely difficult to contain the outbreak.

When the outbreak of a new strain of influenza gripped the world in 2009, the Japanese government adopted a system to respond to emerging infectious diseases, establishing fever clinics and implementing other schemes. Based on its experiences and regrets from that time, as well as the features of the latest coronavirus strain, the government is urged to spearhead efforts to examine medical systems and ensure their readiness so they can provide proper examinations while curbing the spread of infections. It is also imperative to check public relations systems to better communicate relevant information.

The government has decided to repatriate Japanese nationals wishing to return home from Wuhan on a chartered flight, as the city has been locked down to contain the coronavirus. This is welcome news for expatriates with small children and other sources of concern.

Considering the maximum two-week incubation period, however, there are possibilities that infected Japanese nationals without explicit symptoms could return or have already returned to Japanese soil. It is essential to take sufficient measures to make sure returnees limit their contact with others as much as possible while being monitored until after the incubation period is over.

In an era when infectious diseases can easily transcend national boundaries, it is obviously important to forge international cooperation. If China is plagued by a shortage of equipment for medical professionals, then the rest of the world should proactively lend their hands to support the country.

Information disclosure by Beijing has progressed greatly compared to when the SARS scare hit China. Even so, there still remain uncertainties over issues such as the conditions of patients and how the coronavirus has spread. The Chinese government needs to step up efforts to disclose information so other countries can respond to the situation promptly.

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