Japan on Tuesday classified pneumonia caused by a new deadly coronavirus that originated in the central Chinese city of Wuhan as a "designated infectious disease" that legally allows compulsory hospitalization amid a steep rise in overseas infections.
The designation approved by the Cabinet will also restrict infected patients from going to work and require disinfection of sites where the virus has been detected.
The government will use public money to pay for the medical treatment of those subject to forced hospitalization. About 400 specified medical institutions across Japan will be able to provide treatment.
An ordinance on the designation will be implemented on Feb. 7, according to Japanese officials. The government also said anyone travelling who is suspected of having the virus must, under the quarantine law, have a medical checkup at their point of arrival in Japan.
Japan is stepping up quarantine and other preventive efforts to prevent the spread of the virus in the country, one of the major destinations for Chinese travelers during the Lunar New Year holiday.
The death toll from the new virus topped 100 in China, local media said Tuesday. Globally, the pneumonia-causing virus has infected more than 4,500, with four confirmed in Japan.
The designation, the fifth of its kind and the first since the 2014 spread of Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS, also requires doctors to report any patients who test positive for the coronavirus.
"We will take all possible measures to prevent the spread of infections," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a press conference.
The same emergency steps were also taken in the past for other infectious diseases designated by the government as Class II such as MERS and severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS. Under the law, infectious diseases are divided into five classes depending on their severity.
The government is also arranging charter flights for Japanese nationals who wish to return home from Wuhan, a city of 11 million that has been on a virtual lockdown since last week.
"We are ready to go if we can get approval from Chinese authorities," Suga said, adding that Tokyo is also considering sending necessary supplies to Wuhan such as masks and protective clothing.
Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said a charter plane will leave Japan on Tuesday night.
As of last week, about 710 Japanese were registered as staying in Hubei Province, whose capital is Wuhan. Japanese embassy officials have been trying to determine the number of Japanese citizens wishing to return home.
Once they board a charter plane, a doctor, two nurses and a quarantine officer plan to conduct an in-flight check for symptoms such as fever and cough, according to the Japanese health ministry.
The passengers will be asked to monitor their health condition for two weeks after their return to Japan and report to the nearest public health center if they develop symptoms of the new coronavirus.
(Chinese tourists shop for face masks at a store in Tokyo)