Feb 20, 2020
Japanese Professor Warns of Need to Prevent a ‘Second Wuhan’
(Bloomberg) -- A Japanese expert in infectious diseases who created international headlines by criticizing the nation’s handling of the Diamond Princess quarantine on YouTube has warned of the need to prevent a “second Wuhan” in Japan.
Kentaro Iwata, a professor at Kobe University Hospital who said he boarded the cruise ship, posted videos to YouTube earlier this week in both English and Japanese in which he slammed bureaucrats’ handling of the quarantine. He later deleted them. Hundreds of people aboard the ship in the port city of Yokohama have been infected, with two reported dead. In an interview with Bloomberg News, Iwata said Japan now faces a critical period in its handling of the outbreak.
“The big agenda now in Japan is to prevent the second Wuhan,” he said. “Wuhan suffered from a huge number of patients. Once it gets to that level, nobody can stop it, it’s completely uncontrollable.”
The Diamond Princess, which had 3,711 passengers and crew aboard as of Feb. 5, attracted international attention after being quarantined. With thousands stuck on the ship, concern mounted as the vessel became a hotbed of transmission. There were more than 600 confirmed cases on the Diamond Princess.
On Thursday, Iwata created further headlines by deleting the videos less than 48 hours after posting them. At a press briefing, Iwata explained his decision to remove the clips, citing his fear that it was being interpreted as a personal criticism against individuals. In the video, he had slammed those who managed the quarantine, saying infected and uninfected were able to mix freely on the ship.
“A lot of people misunderstood me, saying I am trying to accuse someone personally or institutionally,” he said. “That is not my intention. Leaving my post on YouTube would allow a lot of people to continue to misunderstand me.” Iwata also said the quarantine control on board the ship had improved since his post, and that newly released data showed the risk of secondary infection was less than he initially assumed. He denied facing any external pressure to remove the videos.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said on Wednesday that Japan did everything possible to ensure the health of the passengers on the ship. He declined to comment on the actions taken by other countries, saying that is their own decision.
Iwata, who said he worked in China in the midst of the SARS epidemic and helped to tackle the Ebola virus, spoke in the video about being “so scared” he would contract the disease or spread it to his family.
Yoshihiro Takayama, an infectious disease doctor from Okinawa Chubu hospital and one of the experts in charge on the ship, posted a rebuttal of some of Iwata’s points on Facebook.
“It’s fine to criticize the government, but he should have avoided causing people to shrink with fear on the ship without offering a solution,” he wrote. “After all, they can’t escape.”
Iwata recommended that the best course of action would be for those disembarking the Diamond Princess be isolated or quarantined for another 14 days. Unlike the U.S. and several other nations, Japan will let those leaving the ship immediately return to daily life.
Nonetheless, the Japanese authorities’ response to the outbreak overall had been “fairly good” outside of the Diamond Princess and another case in a hospital in Wakayama, he said, while cautioning that Japan had entered a critical period to prevent further outbreak of the disease.
“I agree with the WHO that people should not overreact,” he said. “Japan’s spread of the infectious disease is rather limited to several places. I still have concern that a small cluster of diseases will lead to a larger spread of the disease, which could happen.”
“You have to very careful, but you have to be calm all the time.”
--With assistance from Isabel Reynolds.
To contact the reporter on this story: Gearoid Reidy in Tokyo at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Kazunori Takada at email@example.com, Kana Nishizawa, Reed Stevenson
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