From Kyodo News
February 21st 2020
TOKYO -The health ministry said Friday it will encourage more companies to promote telework and staggered working hours as part of efforts to prevent further spread of the new coronavirus in Japan.
The ministry will make the request through the Japan Business Federation and other lobbies. It will also ask firms to enable employees with fever or other symptoms to take off work at ease.
“We need the understanding of companies to keep the virus from spreading,” Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Katsunobu Kato said at a press conference.
The total number of infections confirmed in Japan topped 730 on Friday with more new cases, including two brothers attending a primary school, reported in Hokkaido, and a preschool boy in Saitama Prefecture.
Authorities in Hokkaido are investigating how the boys, neither of whom had been overseas lately, contracted the virus. The boy in Saitama Prefecture returned from Wuhan at the center of the virus outbreak to Japan on a government-chartered flight on Jan. 30 with his father who tested positive for the virus on Feb. 10.
The total figure includes 634 cases from the Diamond Princess, a cruise ship that was quarantined at Yokohama Port, south of Tokyo, where the third and final group of around 450 passengers who have tested negative for the virus disembarked Friday.
About 720 passengers had left the ship in the previous two days after a two-week quarantine period ended Wednesday.
The ship arrived at the port carrying some 3,700 passengers and crew. Two Japanese passengers have died at medical facilities after being infected with the virus.
The ministry said over 100 passengers who had close contact with infected passengers by sharing rooms will also disembark and move to a government-provided facility, scrapping the original plan to make them stay another 14 days on the ship.
The government will keep on board foreign passengers waiting for charter flights that will take them back to their home countries.
Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said at a press conference that 759 foreign nationals have already been evacuated by the United States, South Korea, Australia, Hong Kong, Israel and Canada.
Britain, Italy and Taiwan sent planes to repatriate citizens Friday, while Indonesia and the Philippines plan to do so.
“We will do everything we can to support foreign nationals,” Motegi said
The departures have come amid mounting criticism of the Japanese government’s handling of the pneumonia-causing coronavirus outbreak. The virus, which originated in China’s Hubei Province, spread on the ship during its two-week quarantine period.
The quarantine period, which was intended to prevent the coronavirus from spreading in Japan, has been criticized for potentially worsening the outbreak on the ship.
Kentaro Iwata, an expert on infectious diseases at Kobe University Hospital who was a part of a medical response team that boarded the ship, described this week “chaotic” scenes with no proper distinction between infected and non-infected zones in now-removed YouTube videos, although he said Thursday he was informed the situation has since improved.
The government has defended its measures, with health minister Kato saying, “The appropriate steps were taken under the direction of doctors aboard the ship.”
Meanwhile, Motegi said nine countries — Bhutan, Israel, Kiribati, Micronesia, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, South Korea, Thailand and Tonga — have issued warnings against traveling to Japan, which, including the Diamond Princess, accounts for the most infections globally behind China.