TOKYO (AFP) — Panasonic Corp. has ordered Japanese employees in some foreign countries to send their families home to Japan in preparation for a possible bird flu pandemic, a spokesman said Tuesday.
Family members of Japanese employees in parts of Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Russia, former Soviet states and Latin America will fly back to Japan by the end of September, Panasonic spokesman Akira Kadota said.
The firm decided to take the rare measure "well ahead of possible confusion at the outbreak of a global pandemic," he said.
Eight people have contracted the H5N1 bird flu virus in China alone this year -- five of whom died.
"The bird flu cases reported so far are infections from bird to human, but once an infection between human beings is reported, things can get chaotic with many other companies trying to bring back their employees," Kadota said.
"We wanted to take action early before it gets difficult to book flight tickets," he said.
The company did not say how many family members would return to Japan. Employees and their families in North America, Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore will not be affected.
The H5N1 strain of the virus that is most dangerous to humans first emerged in Asia in 2003 and has since caused nearly 250 deaths, according to World Health Organisation figures.
Bird flu, or avian influenza, kills mainly birds but scientists fear it could mutate to jump from human to human, sparking a global pandemic.
Panasonic said last week it was cutting 15,000 jobs and closing dozens of plants worldwide as it braces to fall deep in the red due to the global economic crisis.
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