Infections with a new type of pneumonia have been spreading from China to the world. Chinese authorities have said that the new coronavirus’ ability to spread is getting stronger. In Japan, too, it is necessary to strengthen relevant measures, on the assumption that the number of infected patients will increase.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made clear a policy of naming the pneumonia caused by the new coronavirus as a “designated infectious disease” under the Infectious Diseases Law. This designation under the law will allow authorities to take such measures as the compulsory hospitalization of infected patients. The move is being taken in anticipation of the spread of infected patients, without waiting for a declaration by the World Health Organization that the spread of the new virus is a public health emergency of international interest.
The number of patients infected with the new type of coronavirus has topped 2,800 in mainland China alone, with the death toll rising to more than 80. Cases of infection have spread to more than 10 countries and regions in addition to mainland China.
In terms of the number of infected patients, the latest infections have been spreading on a larger scale than when Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) broke out in 2012. The situation is getting more serious.
In Wuhan in China’s Hubei Province — a city at the center of the coronavirus outbreak — outbound transport services have been shut down, virtually sealing off the city. The daily life of Japanese people living there has been hindered, and there is growing unease.
The Japanese government is working to send privately chartered flights to bring back the Japanese still in Wuhan who want to return to Japan. Other countries, including the United States and South Korea, are also considering sending chartered flights there, so these measures are deemed appropriate from the viewpoint of protecting citizens.
The Chinese government has started banning group tours with overseas destinations. This is aimed at preventing a large number of Chinese people from going abroad during the Lunar New Year holiday period, thus stemming the infection from spreading further.
This move taken by China can be considered to indicate a sense of alarm over the spread of infections, which is faster than it initially expected. The Chinese government should take such positions as quickly disclosing information about infected patients and the virus to other countries and seeking cooperation from them.
In Japan, infected patients, including a Chinese tourist, have been discovered almost on a daily basis. The number of Chinese holidaymakers who visited Japan totaled about 9.6 million last year.
Hotels and other accommodations should vigorously provide guests who are in poor physical condition with health care information. Hospitals, for their part, should make arrangements to be ready to accept foreign patients.
Whether infections may spread from human-to-human contact within Japan will be watched carefully in the days ahead. The possibility also remains that the virus may mutate and become stronger, or the fatality rate may rise.
Early symptoms of the new type of pneumonia may include those similar to a common cold, such as fever and diarrhea. There have also been cases in which elderly people and people with chronic illnesses have become seriously ill, so attentive care is vital.
At present, the percentage of those who die from the new type of pneumonia is not as high as those recorded in cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) or MERS. A level-headed response should be made, based on accurate information.