Tokyo (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Cases of Swine Flu infection have reached 170 in Japan; the government has considered scaling down quarantine checks at airports while focusing on its domestic outbreak. Fears of a possible pandemic have pushed Muslim leaders to possibly postpone the traditional pilgrimage to Mecca; from Seoul news of a possible vaccine, capable of beating the virus, is being reported.
The outbreak in Japan went from just four cases over the weekend to 163 as infections were confirmed in the port city of Kobe and nearby Osaka, which is Japan's second-biggest urban area on the western coast of the island of Honshū. Those worst hit include high school students and small babies. Yesterday Tokyo has ordered the closure of all junior high and high schools in the area; authorities however deny that there is a direct link between this new wave of infections and foreign travel, so much so that they have scaled down airport controls.
China confirmed the mainland's fourth case of swine flu and announced a new suspected case. The confirmed case was a 59-year-old man who was stopped when he tried to enter south China with a fever May 15th on a train from Hong Kong. The man, a resident of Guangdong province, had stayed two nights at a Hong Kong hotel after returning from a trip to Canada and the United States. A 42-year-old Italian woman, part of a 24-member tour group hoping to tour Tibet, is the suspected swine flu case. The woman and fellow travellers are being kept under observation in the Tibetan town of Zhangmu near the border with Nepal.
Dozens of countries urged the World Health Organisation (WHO) to change its criteria for declaring a pandemic, which could have a “cited the costly and potentially risky consequences” on the economy. They say the agency must consider how deadly a virus is and not just how far it spreads across the globe. WHO director general Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun, has instead reaffirmed the seriousness of the virus, defining it “a grave threat for humanity”. “No one can say – she added - whether this is just the calm before the storm”. As it stands today there are 76 known deaths out of 8,829 confirmed cases in 40 countries.
On the research front, Korean scientists say they have succeeded in developing a human vaccine against. “The first in the world” announced Suh Sang-hee, research team chief at the Chungnam National University, and it will be available “in four months”. The breakthrough came only 11 days after the team received samples of the virus and began research. It generally takes around three months for a vaccine to be developed. The vaccine was obtained through genetic recombination of genes extracted from the standard H1N1 virus and can be mass produced.
The panic generated by the new form of influenza could cause the traditional pilgrimage to Mecca to be postponed. Sheik Ali Jumua, Gran Muftì of Egypt has invoked an edict to decide how long to delay the Hajj. The pilgrimage rites could be postponed if the World Health Organisation declares a global pandemic, and raises its pandemic alert from five to the maximum six.