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Coronavirus

Japan to cast wider net to catch coronavirus cases

Screening no longer limited to those with China connection

A bus carrying passengers of the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship departs the port of Yokohama.   © Kyodo

TOKYO -- Japan may broaden the scope of people tested for the coronavirus, extending the screening process beyond those who had visited China's Hubei and Zhejiang provinces.

"We will consider a [testing] process that is not based on certain limited regions," Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said Friday.

The minister's comments come on the heels of the first death in Japan from COVID-19, as the disease caused by the coronavirus is known, in Kanagawa Prefecture on Thursday. The person who died had no direct connection to China.

Halting the spread of the virus has become a pressing issue as new cases were discovered across the country on Friday, from Hokkaido in the north to Okinawa in the south.

Currently, tests are administered to those who have visited Hubei or Zhejiang and those who have been in close contact with such people who also display symptoms like fever and coughing. Mucus from the throat or phlegm are taken as samples and tested to see if they include genetic sequences of the virus.

The screening process was initially limited to those who visited Wuhan, the capital of Hubei Province, and later expanded to the entire province. Zhejiang was added on Thursday. For those with no connection to the two provinces, health authorities have asked care providers to test cases involving strong suspicion of infection. These regional conditions may be dropped under the new guidelines.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Friday that a panel of experts on infectious diseases has been established to discuss measures to prevent the spread of the virus.

"We will step up consideration of measures based on medical knowledge," Abe said.

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