Japan is easing up on its concerns about the severity of its swine flu outbreak and local authorities are re-opening schools in the most affected areas.
Local governments such as the Hyogo and Osaka prefectures, where the majority of H1N1 cases were detected, said at the weekend that they would re-open the thousands of schools, kindergartens, universities and senior-citizen centres shut over the past week in an attempt to prevent the number of flu cases from spreading.
“It is true that these measures have provided a certain level of effectiveness for preventing the spread,” said Toshizo Ido, the governor of Hyogo prefecture in a letter posted on its website.
The government said on Friday that the virus had many similarities to seasonal flu, and that while it was easily transmitted, most patients appeared to recover after a mild case of the virus.
The government said it would continue to do what it could to prevent further spread of the virus and limit its effect on people’s daily lives and the economy.
The World Health Organisation has been criticised over its pandemic assessment scale used for the virus, with countries including Japan and the UK calling for a change in its ratings system. The WHO has said it will only increase its assessment of swine flu to its highest level if there are signs of severity over and above the geographical spread.
At the last count on Sunday, Japan had a total of 340 confirmed cases of swine flu, according to the health ministry, making it the country with the fourth highest number of cases after the US, Mexico and Canada, according to the WHO website.
Of the 340 Japanese cases, five were confirmed in Japanese nationals returning from overseas trips, while the rest were transmitted domestically, with three cases in and around Tokyo. Authorities had mostly focused on trying to identify cases transmitted from outside Japan by checking the health of passengers entering the country, particularly from North America.
However, in mid-May, the first domestically-transmitted cases were identified in the western cities of Kobe and Osaka, prompting local governments to temporarily close state-run schools, kindergartens and day-care centres, and requesting privately-run institutions to do the same.
Concerns also caused huge demand for masks, often used in Japan by people suffering from colds and hayfever, for which many pharmacies were sold out for days.