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Local govts divided over release of info on infected patients

  • February 10, 2020
  • , Jiji Press , 1;16 p.m.
  • English Press

Tokyo, Feb. 10 (Jiji Press)–Local governments in Japan are divided over how they should handle information on the footsteps of people infected with the new coronavirus, such as where they visited and with whom they came into contact after their infection.

The disclosure of such information helps citizens secure their safety and ease their anxieties over the viral epidemic, but also could raise the issue of patients’ privacy and trigger baseless rumors.

On Jan. 28, it came to light that a bus driver in Nara Prefecture, western Japan, tested positive for the new virus after carrying tourists from Wuhan, the Chinese city where the outbreak originated.

As it was the first known case of the virus’ human-to-human transmission in Japan, public concerns grew over the footsteps of the driver of the bus, which had visited many spots in eastern and western Japan.

While the health ministry refrained from disclosing where the bus traveled in detail, the Nara prefectural government told the government of Kanagawa Prefecture in eastern Japan that the driver had stayed overnight in Kanagawa.

“Withholding information can encourage paranoia,” Kanagawa Governor Yuji Kuroiwa said, expressing hopes that the central government will disclose information in detail.

Behind the ministry’s cautious stance is the nation’s infectious disease law, which requires proactive information disclosure by the central and local governments, but at the same time calls on them to pay attention to the protection of personal information.

Kotaro Nagasaki, governor of Yamanashi Prefecture, said the central Japan prefecture will value professional judgment when disclosing information. “Losing our cool and stirring things up will cause a panic,” he said.

In contrast, the Osaka prefectural government is eager for disclosure, with Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura showing to the public details of where the bus tourists visited in the western Japan prefecture.

“Giving out precise information leads to cool-headed decision-making and actions,” Yoshimura said.

The government of Mie Prefecture in central Japan disclosed the footsteps of an infected resident consensually, while the Tokyo metropolitan government has decided to take the same approach. Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said, “We’ll disclose information with due consideration to privacy protection and prevention of baseless rumors.”

In a set of proposals on measures against the new coronavirus outbreak submitted to the Japanese government and the ruling bloc on Wednesday, the National Governors’ Association demanded uniform guidelines on information disclosure.

“Instead of letting local governments take different approaches, Japan as a country should draw up uniform guidelines,” said Kamon Iizumi, chief of the association and governor of Tokushima Prefecture in western Japan.

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