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Japanese police cancel stationing patrol units on Mt. Fuji as trails closed due to virus

This July 2017 file photo shows a temporary branch for dispatching rescue unit members at the fifth station of the Subashiri route on the Shizuoka prefectural side of Mount Fuji. (Mainichi/Yurika Tarumi)

SHIZUOKA -- Police in this central Japan city have decided this year to refrain from stationing officers at outposts on Mount Fuji as all trails within Shizuoka Prefecture are closed due to the novel coronavirus.

The move marked the first time for Shizuoka Prefectural Police to suspend the permanent stationing of security unit guards at the ninth station of the mountain, which had continued since 2013. The temporary dispatch branch usually stationed at the fifth station of the mountain will also remain closed.

In a typical year, the prefectural police would form a mountain rescue unit consisting of 28 members from the community affairs division and the three police stations of Susono, Gotemba, and Fujinomiya. Two to five members are permanently stationed at Mannenyukisanso, a mountain lodge located at the ninth station along the Fujinomiya trail, which sees the largest number of climbers among the mountain stations within Shizuoka Prefecture. The stationed members patrol the area and search for missing people.

In addition, a temporary dispatch branch is usually established at the fifth stations of the Fujinomiya and Subashiri mountain trails, and the dispatched workers also give guidance on trail directions as well as manage lost items.

However, all mountain lodges on the Shizuoka Prefecture side have closed temporarily for this summer as a preventative measure against the novel coronavirus. The prefectural government decided to close all three mountain trails, and prefectural police called off the permanent stationing of security unit guards and the establishment of a temporary dispatch branch. Police in charge of patrolling a chain of mountains in central Japan, known as the Minami Alps, also plan to refrain from setting up permanent watch units this summer.

According to Shizuoka Prefectural Police, there were 58 cases where climbers on Mount Fuji, the Minami Alps, and other locations got lost or stranded in the 2019 summer climbing season. One individual died of hypothermia, and 26 people suffered from severe to minor injuries due to falling down, among other reasons.

The Shizuoka Prefectural Police community affairs division commented, "The structure for security has not been readily prepared, and it is difficult to carry out rescues quickly. We would like for people to refrain from mountain climbing this year."

A senior official of the prefectural police also revealed, "Although we would like for people to refrain from mountain climbing, we have no choice but to go to the site if we receive 110 emergency calls."

As the mountain rescue unit currently has no base, members will have to head to the site from the foot of the mountain, which is predicted to require some time until arrival. Food and other resources cannot be procured at the mountain lodges, and it is also feared that the unit will have to haul more equipment.

Hiroshi Mihara, community affairs department chief of Shizuoka Prefectural Police, commented, "We would like to partner with the prefectural government's council on preventing mountain accidents and others to make it widely known that mountain climbing is banned (this season)."

(Japanese original by Yukina Furukawa, Shizuoka Bureau)

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