TOKYO: Japan’s health minister urged the public on Sunday to avoid crowds and “nonessential meetings”, including notoriously packed passenger trains, to prevent the new coronavirus from spreading in the country.
Katsunobu Kato warned that the nation is “entering a new phase” in the outbreak of the virus, which has so far infected almost 60 people in Japan.
“We want to ask the public to avoid non-urgent and non-essential meetings. We want older people and people with pre-existing conditions to avoid crowded places, “Kato said after a panel of experts meeting.
“I think it is important that we exercise the collective force of Japan. We want to ask the Japanese people for their cooperation and it will be necessary for everyone to unite to face this infectious disease,” he said at a press conference.
Kato said that cases without clear transmission chains and involving people who have not traveled to China, where the outbreak began, meant that Japan was entering a new stage.
Read: Another 70 people test positive for coronavirus on a ship in Japan
The government will write new guidelines for doctors on when to suspect possible coronavirus infections and for ordinary citizens to know when to seek medical attention.
Japan has been pressuring Tokyo residents to try to telework or avoid travel at peak times to alleviate traffic congestion during the Tokyo Summer Olympics.
Kato said the government will reiterate its calls to people to test those measures to alleviate the spread of the virus.
Comments come after a series of new infections were confirmed over the weekend, bringing the total number of cases within Japan to 59.
Those numbers exclude hundreds of cases aboard a cruise, as well as a quarantine officer who assessed people on the ship.
Most infected people seem to experience mild conditions similar to the common cold and may not realize they have the disease, possibly risking spreading it to others, said Takaji Wakita, head of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases headed by the panel of experts.
“Domestic infections are expected to continue,” Wakita said, adding that Japan was at an early stage of the spread.