The Japanese government's task force tracking group infections of the new coronavirus stressed the need Wednesday to reduce human-to-human contact to contain the epidemic, saying 420,000 people could die if preventive measures are not taken.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry's team tasked with dealing with cluster infections of the pneumonia-causing virus said, however, Japan is not expected to see deaths caused by the virus reach such a level and that it will later release an estimate of how effective measures to reduce social contact have been in preventing infections in the country.

(Hokkaido University professor Hiroshi Nishiura (C), a member of the Health Ministry's team to prevent cluster infections, speaks in Tokyo)


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"We don't expect 400,000 or so people to die (because of the virus). We can stop the spread of this infectious disease if we drastically reduce contact between people," said Hiroshi Nishiura, Hokkaido University professor and a key member of the task force.

He has been calling for an 80 percent reduction in human-to-human contact to stem the rise in infections by the end of the state of emergency currently in place through May 6 for Tokyo and six other prefectures.

According to the task force's simulation, 850,000 people could become seriously sick with the virus-caused disease called COVID-19 if countermeasures are not taken.

The Japanese government is aiming for a reduction of at least 70 percent in human-to-human contact in the seven prefectures subject to the state of emergency declared on April 7 because of rising infections in those areas. Nishiura has called for an 80 percent cut in such contacts to ensure new infections level off in one month.

Confirmed cases of coronavirus infections in Japan have exceeded 8,800 and there have been more than 170 deaths as of Tuesday.