TOKYO // Japan's health ministry has confirmed 12 more cases of swine flu hours after announcing dozens of other cases, bringing the country's total to 44. The health and welfare ministry says the 12 newly confirmed patients included 11 high school students and a family member in the western prefecture of Hyogo. All tested positive for the H1N1 virus and are recovering in local hospitals. The ministry earlier today confirmed 27 cases, all teenagers except for two - a teacher and a college student - at several high schools in Hyogo and nearby Osaka. Japan yesterday confirmed its first domestic case of swine flu. Japan's first cases were contracted outside the country.
The students who yesterday were found to have contracted the flu have not travelled overseas recently, but tested positive for the same strain that has killed more than 70 people worldwide, mostly in Mexico. The government immediately ordered schools closed in parts of the affected cities. Kobe also cancelled its annual festival and other events planned for the weekend. Sales people at stores and restaurants and officials at train stations in the region started wearing masks as a precaution. "We have not determined how the virus spread in the region, and we are doing our best to track down the route of the infections and contain them," the chief cabinet secretary Takeo Kawamura said.
Japan had put in force strict quarantine measures at airports to try to keep the virus from spreading, but the government's flu taskforce decided yesterday to scale down those efforts and shift the focus to containing the domestic outbreak. Japan's first four cases were spotted at an airport quarantine. * AP