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Japan mulls up to $5K fines for infected people refusing to tell officials their movements

The Central Government Building No. 5 that houses the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry is seen in this file photo taken in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on Oct. 14, 2015. (Mainichi/Kimi Takeuchi)

TOKYO -- As part of efforts to strengthen measures against the coronavirus in Japan, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare revealed on Dec. 12 that it is looking into introducing punishments for people who either lie or refuse to answer questions for public health centers' active epidemiological investigations used to trace infection routes.

    It is intended that the measures be included in revisions to the infectious diseases law set to be tabled at an ordinary Diet session in January, and adjustments are going ahead with an outline proposing fines of "500,000 yen (about $4,828) or less."

    The punishments were elaborated on at a joint session of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Although active epidemiological investigations are a key step for public health centers to prevent infections spreading, there have been cases of infected people and others refusing to be interviewed about their recent movements, leading the National Governors' Association to call for measures ensuring the investigations' effectiveness.

    A review will be carried out based on a regulation which stipulates that fines of up to 500,000 yen may be levied on individuals who refuse investigations at quarantine or provide false answers. The provisions are leaning toward only making infected people and those strongly suspected of being infected subject to the fines. Individuals such as those who have had close contact with infected persons would not be affected.

    It was also revealed that individuals with minor or no symptoms who refuse to cooperate with requests to convalesce at home or in designated accommodation could be advised by prefectural governors to be hospitalized, and that anyone refusing their advisories could be subject to fines.

    The content of the punishments was made with consideration for measures in Japan's Quarantine Act, which states that people who escape isolation or detainment can be "punished by imprisonment with labor for not more than one year or a fine of not more than 1 million yen (about $9,654)."

    Regulations for prefectural governors to encourage the provision of meals and daily use products to recovering people have also been newly outlined, and a legal obligation to make all reasonable efforts to secure accommodation facilities for infected people will also be established.

    (Japanese original by Ai Yokota, Lifestyle and Medical news Department, and Shuhei Endo, Political News Department)

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