Doctors boarded flights arriving in Japan from North America yesterday to screen passengers for swine flu and China ordered inspections at pig farms, as Asian governments rushed to try to hold back the virus from the continent.
New Zealand waited for final test results on 10 high school students and teachers who officials said were probably swine flu cases and checked 56 other people for possible infection. In South Korea, a 51-year-old woman was listed as a probable case.
No cases of the deadly virus have been confirmed in Asia or Australasia, but officials held top-level meetings about how to respond to a possible pandemic and some were preparing to open emergency stockpiles of antiviral drugs.
The epicenter of the outbreak remained in Mexico, where swine flu is suspected in more than 150 deaths and nearly 2,000 infections.
Almost 80 cases have been confirmed worldwide, and the number was inching higher. The total includes 50 in the US, six in Canada, one in Spain and two in Scotland.
In Japan, a national headquarters for dealing with new strains of influenza was established, with Prime Minister Taro Aso at the helm, and the public was urged not to panic.
“Citizens should listen to the information provided by the government and not relax their guard, but we hope that people remain composed and act calmly,” Cabinet Spokesman Takeo Kawamura said in Tokyo.
“We are told that the virus is not particularly toxic, but there have been casualties and the government will prepare with the worst case in mind, regardless of how dangerous the virus is,” he said.
Teams of doctors, nurses and government officials were boarding all flights arriving from Mexico, the US and Canada to check passengers for signs of the flu, Health Ministry official Akimori Mizuguchi said.
Across Asia, passengers arriving on flights from North America were being screened at airports using thermal scanners.
Travelers with suspicious symptoms — such as fever, sore throats and aches and pains — were being sent for more thorough medical checks.
China, which has in the past been criticized for being slow and unwilling to release information about disease outbreaks, pledged to strengthen monitoring and inspection and urged prompt reporting of suspected swine flu cases.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) presided over a Monday meeting of China’s Cabinet that issued measures to prevent and control a swine flu outbreak, including the setting up of a system to enable early discovery, reporting, diagnosis and treatment.
“Once a suspected case is found in China, it must be made public in a timely way,” a statement read on state-run CCTV said. “We must be highly vigilant and take strong monitoring and prevention measures.”
The statement said China would also step up inspections of pig farms and slaughterhouses for possible infections.
Health authorities say antiviral drugs such as Tamiflu and Relenza appear to be effective in combating swine flu if the treatment is given early enough.
ASEAN, which started a regional stockpile of antiviral drugs during the outbreaks of SARS in 2003 and, later of bird flu, said the region currently has 1 million courses of antiviral agents ready for a “rapid response.”
“Further efforts will be exerted to mobilize other sources of antivirals if needed,” the 10-member group said in a statement.