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Japan relaxes flu guidelines as cases near 300

JAPAN relaxed its guidelines for dealing with the new H1N1 flu today, as the number of confirmed cases in Japan neared 300 and the disease began spreading to the densely populated capital.

Japan's plans were drafted with the deadly bird flu in mind and concerns have grown that implementing them would hurt the economy and have excessive impact on people's daily lives, while studies show the new flu is behaving like seasonal flu.

"I have heard that in certain regions where the number of the infected rose rapidly, there are some difficulties for the medical facilities to respond," Prime Minister Taro Aso said at a government meeting.

"It is important to make it possible for the local government to respond flexibly depending on the situation of the region."

Under the new guidelines, suspected patients in in areas where the number of cases are rapidly increasing would be allowed to go to regular medical institutions rather than only designated fever centres" set up to deal with the new flu, health minister Yoichi Masuzoe told a news conference.

School closures will be limited in such areas, while quarantine checks on airplanes will no longer be conducted in most instances, Masuzoe added.

The H1N1 flu strain is a never-before-seen mixture of swine, bird and human viruses that spreads easily between people. It has killed 85 people and infected more than 11,000 in 41 countries, according to the World Health Organisation.

A total of 289 cases have been confirmed in Japan, most in the western part of the country and many of them high school students, while two cases were confirmed in Tokyo.


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