The Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, requested all elementary, junior high, and high schools on Thursday to close from Monday through the students’ spring break, which usually ends in early April.
Abe told a meeting of key Cabinet ministers on the coronavirus outbreak crisis:
“Efforts have been made to prevent the spread of infection among children in each region, and these one or two weeks will be an extremely critical period.”
“The government attaches the top priority to the health and safety of children, among others.”
On Thursday, the health and welfare ministry told Abe’s request does not apply to daycare centers for children and after-school facilities for elementary school students.
The prime minister’s abrupt announcement came as the number of confirmed COVID-19 virus patients kept rising, with the numbers exceeding 200 across Japan as of Thursday evening, and excluding the more than 700 infected patients related to the virus-hit Diamond Princess cruise ship.
In response, reporters stated that most of the 1,600 elementary and junior high schools in Hokkaido decided to close for a week the same day to slow the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.
This action started a day after the Hokkaido education board convinced local authorities to close all public and private elementary and junior high schools temporarily to contain the spread of the virus, as over 50 infections together with some students have been confirmed in the prefecture.
Gov. Naomichi Suzuki said in a statement during a prefectural assembly session:
“We will make our best efforts to prevent further spread of infection to protect the lives and health of the people in Hokkaido.”
Meanwhile, Ochanomizu University in Tokyo had already confirmed it will order to close affiliated schools from Friday for a month until spring break. Prince Hisahito, the 13-year-old nephew of Emperor Naruhito, went on the junior high school affiliated with the university, as a school official said:
“I believe it is an unprecedented closure for such an extended period.”
The Kanagawa government, on the other hand, decided to exclude parents and guardians from being present in the graduation and entrance ceremonies at junior and senior high schools run by the prefecture as a precautionary measure.
Hokkaido’s capital Sapporo, which has about 300 elementary and junior high schools, said it will close from Friday through March 6.
Masahide Hasegawa. Chief of Sapporo’s education board explains:
“We wanted to secure enough time for working parents to arrange their schedules with their employers before starting the break.”
“Although it will affect my work and coworkers, it’s better if it reduces the risk of infection for children as little is still known about the disease.”
In Ebetsu, where a junior high school teacher has reported positive for the virus, schools will be closed until March 6.
As of today, the number of confirmed cases in Japan has risen to more than 800, with nearly 700 of which were reported on the cruise liner and seven people have died.