80% of Tokyo's Yoyogi Park closed after dengue outbreak widens

Workers spray insecticide at Yoyogi park in Tokyo on Sept 5, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Workers spray insecticide at Yoyogi park in Tokyo on Sept 5, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Tiny insects have forced the nearly complete closure of Tokyo's sprawling Yoyogi Park, a "last resort" taken for the first time in the nearly 50-year-history of the park.

The Metropolitan authorities on Thursday closed the northern section of the Shibuya Ward park, or about 80 per cent of its total area, after mosquitoes carrying the dengue virus were discovered over a wide area in the park.

"The presence of mosquitoes carrying the dengue virus over a wide area in the park has been confirmed. Closing it was a last resort," said Mr Mineo Shirota, head of the metropolitan government's Park Division at a press conference held at the Tokyo metropolitan government office.

This is the first time a large section of Yoyogi Park has been closed since the park first opened in 1967. The metropolitan government began taking steps against dengue fever on Aug 28, immediately after infections with the disease had been confirmed among visitors to the park, including spraying with insecticide inside the park and draining water from its fountains to prevent the growth of mosquito larvae.

However, the number of infected people continued to grow, and as of Thursday, the Tokyo government had received a total of 812 inquiries about the situation. The discovery of mosquitoes carrying the dengue virus left the metropolitan government with no choice but to close most of the park.

The authorities inspected the park on Thursday afternoon in the company of entomologists. Plans were to conduct extermination work from Friday afternoon, after considering different methods based on their impact on the ecosystem.

To ascertain in detail the mosquitoes' range, the authorities will increase the number of mosquito traps in the park to 20 locations from the current 10, beginning next week.

Caution signs were erected on Thursday afternoon at three entrances to Meiji Shrine, which is connected to Yoyogi Park by a forest, calling on visitors to take such precautions as wearing long sleeves and pants. Insect repellent was also available at guard stations.