Tokyo Report | Society | East Asia

Coronavirus: Japan Sends Final Evacuation Flight

Japan is sending its final evacuation flight to Hubei as it continues to try to stem the spread of the virus.

Mina Pollmann
Coronavirus: Japan Sends Final Evacuation Flight

Fire department members gather at the entrance of the cruise ship Diamond Princess which anchors off the Yokohama Port Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020.

Credit: AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko

On Monday, Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi announced that the Japanese government would send a fifth chartered flight to Hubei province this week to evacuate Japanese nationals and their family members. Hubei, the epicenter of the outbreak of a novel coronavirus strain, has been under a tight quarantine, leading many foreign countries to evacuate their citizens. Between January 28 and February 7, four chartered flights brought back a total of 763 Japanese nationals and their family members. The fifth flight is expected to be the last flight for now, and Japanese nationals who want to leave the province are encouraged to board this flight. The chartered flight was decided on given the lack of commercial options even if Japanese nationals traveled to airports outside of Hubei.

As the coronavirus spreads in the region, both the local and national governments face difficult quandaries. At the local level, Japanese prefectural governments are still trying to figure out how much information to disclose to the public about the movement of individuals who have traveled to or have ties to Wuhan. Disclosing such information may ease anxiety among those who live and work in places where infected individuals are not known to have traveled to within Japan. However, such transparency could violate patients’ privacy, as well as generate rumors that could lead to greater anxiety rather than less, especially in places where infected individuals are known to have traveled to.

At the national level, the Japanese government is continuing apace with its policies to block the entry of individuals who have the potential of carrying the virus. Since February 1, the Japanese government had imposed a blanket ban on foreign nationals who visited Hubei during the past two weeks and those who have passports issued from Hubei regardless of whether or not they have symptoms of the virus. Government sources told Kyodo News that the government now plans to ban foreign nationals who have visited China’s Zhejiang province from entering Japan. According to Chinese data, 1,131 people have been infected in Zhejiang province, compared to 33,366 in Hubei.

With two more men who returned on government chartered flights from Wuhan having been diagnosed with coronavirus, as of February 11, the total number of those who have tested positive for coronavirus in Japan is 205 – including 175 cases on board the cruise ship quarantined in Yokohama.

The cruise ship Diamond Princess has been quarantined since February 5, after a passenger that disembarked in Hong Kong was found to be infected with coronavirus. The quarantine period is supposed to last until February 19, but as the situation on board the ship deteriorates the elderly may be allowed to leave early. Though it was initially considered too much of a logistical challenge to test all of the approximately 3,600 passengers on board, as the number of cases increases, the government is more seriously considering the possibility.

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At a meeting of the Liberal Democratic Party, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe promised that the government would use budget reserves to implement as many new measures as possible, such as the development of easy-to-use test kits and support for small companies being adversely impacted by the fallout, mainly in the tourism sector.