Tokyo: As the first cases of swine flu were confirmed in Japan’s capital Tokyo, officials on Thursday broadened their anti-epidemic measures and online prices soared for the antiviral drug Tamiflu, which is normally available only via prescription.
New cases also were reported in China and Australia.
Two Japanese high school girls, who recently visited New York for a Model United Nations Conference, became Tokyo’s first confirmed cases.
Both are believed to have caught the flu while out of the country.
“This influenza is becoming widespread within the country, so we’re shifting away from measures to stop it at the border and focusing on domestic countermeasures,” said Health and Welfare minister Yoichi Masuzoe.
He urged citizens to remain calm, and said the government’s focus was on seeking a balance between protecting their health and not generating an overreaction.
The two cases in Tokyo brought Japan’s total confirmed cases to 267 as of Thursday morning, according to the Health Ministry.
Prices soared for Tamiflu online, with drug vendors charging from 7,000 yen to 12,000 yen ($74 to $128) for a box of 10 pills. The pills are normally available with a prescription for about 3,000 yen for 10 pills.
Purchasing the pills for private use is legal in Japan, though selling the pills without approval is prohibited.
Most infections in the country so far have occurred in the western city of Kobe and nearby Osaka, which is Japan’s second-biggest urban area after Tokyo. The majority have been teenagers, and none are seriously ill.
Officials have closed more than 4,000 schools, from kindergartens to universities, in those regions and set up “fever stations” outside hospitals to examine patients who believe they may have contracted the new flu strain.
Local governments across the country have set up designated telephone hot lines to answer questions and give health advice about the virus. Warnings are also being broadcast in train stations and other public areas advising residents to seek help if they are suffering from fever or other symptoms.
The flu strain also continued to spread elsewhere in Asia.
A 21-year-old Canadian has tested positive for swine flu in Beijing, becoming mainland China’s fifth case of the virus, the Health Ministry reported.
The man was in stable condition at Beijing’s main infectious disease hospital, the ministry said late on Wednesday. Those who had close contact with him were under medical observation, but none had shown flu symptoms.
The man arrived in Beijing on the afternoon of 16 May aboard an Air Canada flight from Toronto and began running a fever the next day, the ministry said. On Tuesday, he checked into a hospital and the next day was transferred to the infectious disease hospital, where he was found to have swine flu.
In Australia, health authorities confirmed five new cases over the past two days, bringing the country’s total to six, including two schoolboys whose classes were quarantined as a precaution.
Australian Health minister Nicola Roxon said she expected more cases to emerge.
The World Health Organization says 41 countries have reported more than 10,000 cases, mostly in the US and Mexico. The organization says 80 deaths have been reported.