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May 20, 2009
H1N1 flu spreads in Japan despite inspection efforts

Residents of Japan attempt to ward off swine flu with protective masks.

Japan has reported a big increase in the number of cases of H1N1 flu, with at least 191 confirmed. The government has closed more than 4,000 schools and canceled many community events.

Janne Morén is a Swedish researcher living in Osaka. He writes at his blog to weigh the government’s approach to combating the flu. 

Flu Closings Not Working As Expected

The number of infected is up to 191 people, and a lot of schools are closed for a week. Most infected people are high-school students so I guess it makes some kind of sense. Not all schools are closed, however; as the link above hints, jurisdiction over things like schools is an unholy mess of overlapping and conflicting responsibilities here. The Osaka prefecture, for instance, can order all schools in Osaka prefecture to close — except for those in Osaka city and Sakai city. They’re the biggest cities and their schools are not under prefectural control. And private schools are private and can’t just be ordered to close.

Of course, the incubation period of the virus seems to range from a day up to nine days, so a week-long break might really be too short to break the chain of transmission. Besides, it’s high-schoolstudents we’re talking about here; compulsive socializers, with a primal urge to see each other at any cost. The kind of people that would meet up during a hurricane just to show each other how cool and unimpressed they are. What are the chances that they simply meet each other out on the town instead, rendering the school closings ineffective? And true enough, the Osaka evening news featured a broadcast from Amerikamura where large numbers of middle- and high-school students have gathered today to celebrate a few days off school.

Day care centers are also closing. Which impacts young mothers that work part- or full-time. They can no longer go to work since they need to stay home with their kid. According to a television report this morning, many such young parents gather at each others home. That way the kids have friends to play with, and the parents can help each other out so some can go grocery shopping (or even go to work part time) while the others watch the children.

Great idea – except that it defeats the whole purpose of closing the day care centers in the first place. And instead of having the kids watched by trained nursery staff that knows to look for early signs of infection and knows what to do if they see it, you have parents that of course really have little clue about what to do.

To their credit, a number of people have begun speaking up about this current hysteria, and some of the media is giving them a voice. Some doctors have rightly pointed out that many of the current measures don’t really work. All they do is disrupt people’s lives and incite panic. Our Fearless Leader, Osaka Governor Hashimoto (who seems to be putting on some weight; might want to go easy on the takoyaki there) has called for a step-down on the pandemic response and start treating it more like a normal flu outbreak. The radical measures are out of proportion to the current severity and spread of the disease. 

Read more at the original post.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Foxeo under a Creative Commons license.

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