TOKYO – JAPAN’S plan for any future influenza pandemic calls for shutting down airports, closing schools and organising mass cremations of the dead in hopes of keeping the virus off its shores or at least containing it.

The government plan estimates that a new human flu virus could infect a quarter of the Japanese population and force 40 per cent of the work force to stay home. It could cause as many as 640,000 deaths in Japan if it were to spread across the country, the Health Ministry said on Thursday. ‘It is important to delay as much as possible the virus’ entry through measures such as strengthening quarantine to take advantage of the special qualities of our nation as an island nation,’ it said.

While there have been no warnings of increased risk this year, flu fears have been stoked in Japan in the wake of a hit film, ‘Infected Archipelego,’ portraying an outbreak that causes death and chaos. The government also held a highly publicised pandemic preparedness drill last month.

This week, major electronics maker Panasonic Corp ordered the families of Japanese overseas employees to return home from developing countries that may be at risk, including China, most Asian countries, the Middle East and Africa. The company denied the measure was taken to save money.
Japan’s plan would keep open just four airports and three ports, where a strict quarantine would try to prevent the virus’ entry if it emerges overseas. Charter flights would bring healthy Japanese back home, but those infected would be asked stay abroad and foreigners would be restricted from entry.

If an outbreak occurs in Japan, the government plans to shut down schools and discourage people from going to places where large numbers of people gather, such as concerts and movie theaters, and to cremate bodies of victims within 24 hours.

The government is now preparing an update of the plan, initially outlined in November, to reflect public feedback that was gathered in recent weeks, Health Ministry official Yosuke Yamaki said on Thursday.