Japanese government is attempting to limit the spread of the virus
The number of swine flu cases in Japan has jumped to more than 160, forcing the government to close 4,000 schools in an attempt to limit the spread of the deadly virus.
As World Health Organisation officials met in Geneva to discuss how to tackle the outbreak, the Japanese government confirmed the number of confirmed cases had hit 163.
The urban areas of Kobe and Osaka were at the centre of the outbreaks in Japan, a country particularly vulnerable to the virus due to its status as a densely populated island nation with a large elderly community.
Taro Aso, the prime minister, urged the public to remain calm following a crisis cabinet meeting, as he emphasised that most people were able to recover swiftly from the virus. ‘Caution is needed because there are cases of patients with chronic diseases such as diabetes whose condition is serious,’ he said. ‘At the moment, however, many people are recovering smoothly after receiving appropriate treatment early.’
A total of 4,043 schools and kindergartens were closed in and around both cities at the request of government authorities, up from about 2,000 on Monday.
The surge in Japanese cases coincided with the WHO’s annual meeting in Geneva where the issue of swine flu – also known as H1N1 – and its spread to more than 40 countries, was top of the agenda. The virus has been linked to 76 deaths worldwide so far.
Since the first cases of swine flu were reported in Mexico last month, the WHO has issued a phase 5 pandemic alert, the second-highest possible level, meaning that officials believe ‘a pandemic is imminent’.
However, the swift rate of transmission in Japan, where the first case was reported on 9 May, has prompted fears that officials may soon increase the alert to the maximum level and declare the first global pandemic since 1968.
‘Japan is definitely having human-to-human transmission,’ Hitoshi Oshitani, a virology expert who advised the WHO during Asia’s SARS outbreak, told Bloomberg. ‘The WHO will have to take the Japanese cases into consideration when deciding whether to raise the pandemic alert.’