TOKYO, May 1 – Japan reacted with relief Friday to news that the country’s first suspected case of deadly swine flu, a 17-year-old high school student who recently visited Canada, had tested negative for the virus.
Television anchors openly expressed their relief as they read the news, and the faculty of the boy’s high school shouted "banzai" (hurrah) when they heard the official announcement, the principal told local journalists.
Japan, an island-nation of 128 million people, has ramped up efforts to stop the virus at its borders, tightening airport controls, issuing health warnings and readying special quarantine and treatment facilities.
The health ministry on Thursday quarantined a young Japanese woman who had returned from Los Angeles and passengers who sat near her on the plane, but later found she was suffering from a normal type of flu, not the new H1N1 strain.
Hours later, Health Minister Yoichi Masuzoe held an emergency press conference after midnight, announcing that the schoolboy had become the country’s first suspected swine flu case.
However, on Friday, after laboratory tests, officials gave the boy the all-clear.
"This patient has a seasonal, human influenza," said Yoshio Nambu, the ministry official in charge of combating H1N1. "We can rule out that this was an infection of a new type of influenza."
Japan’s foreign ministry said another type-A flu case was being tested.
The US military had started tests on a four-month-old baby who arrived at Tokyo’s US Yokota air base from the United States, it said, adding the mother and 13 others who sat on the flight near the baby were also being tested.
The alerts have come as Japan starts one of the busiest travel periods of the year, the "Golden Week" of public holidays when tens of millions of people crowd trains and airports to visit family and friends.
Sports have also been affected, with Japan’s sumo authority saying it would give face masks and antibacterial liquid hand soap to hundreds of wrestlers and their families.
At the world table tennis championship — held in Yokohama, the home city of the 17-year-old boy — organisers said earlier that thermographic cameras would be set up to detect people with raised temperatures, and that the 1,500 competitors and officials would be offered face masks and sanitising gels.