The Japanese government will shut down schools, ban large gatherings and declare a state of emergency if the country is hit by a severe flu epidemic, the government said in an action plan announced Monday. Tokyo will also stockpile antiviral drugs and help chicken farmers control bird flu in their flocks, it said.
The release of the plan in Japan, which has not yet suffered a human death from the H5N1 virus, came as anxieties over the illness were spurred by reports Monday and over the weekend of new outbreaks in China and Vietnam.
"We need to be sufficiently prepared so we can act promptly in case bird flu spreads to human beings," Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe told reporters Monday. "Rather than deal with matters after it occurs, we need to have measures in place beforehand."
A committee including officials from local governments, medical institutions, and the Health Ministry was to convene on Tuesday to begin discussions on how to meet the plans' objectives.
The plan outlines the measures to be taken should the current form of bird flu, which so far has only been transmitted from animals to other animals or a limited number of humans, mutate to a form that can be transmitted between people.
The ministry's scheme calls for the government to stockpile the antiviral drug Tamiflu, assist bird keepers to control and eliminate outbreaks among their flocks, and keep the public alerted to developments, according to the AP.
The action plan set the targeted size of the Tamiflu stockpile at 25 million doses against the assumption that 32 million people, or 25 percent of the population, would become infected.
The plan says between 170,000 and 640,000 people could die in Japan, and between 530,000 and 2 million people would be hospitalized.
The current type of bird flu is extremely deadly when transmitted to humans, killing more than half those who are infected. But Japanese health officials said viruses that are transmitted between humans tend to be less deadly, so that a much larger percentage of people infected would survive, under the government's projections.
Nevertheless, the plan, which officials say prepares Japan for a "worst-case scenario," involves closing down schools, banning large gatherings and declaring a state of emergency should a serious epidemic hit Japan.