Surprise announcement comes as children are now testing positive for COVID-19.

As the coronavirus continues to spread in Japan, with 912 cases recorded as of Thursday night, including 705 from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, the Japanese government is scrambling to put measures in place in order to contain the virus while the outbreak is still in its early stages.

This evening, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made the extraordinary announcement that he will be asking all of the country’s elementary and junior and senior high schools to close temporarily from Monday.

Abe made the announcement at a meeting of key Cabinet ministers who have been convening regularly to discuss infection control measures. Speaking to the press, Abe said:

“Above all else, safeguarding the health of children is paramount, and anticipating the risk of a large-scale outbreak as large numbers of children and teachers gather together for long hours every day, I will be asking all elementary, junior high, senior high and special needs schools nationwide to close temporarily from next Monday, 2 March, until the spring vacation.”

The spring vacation in Japan typically runs for roughly ten days from the third week of March, ending in early April. While no classes are held during vacation periods in Japan, students still typically attend school for club activities, with teachers working at school as well. In light of Abe’s announcement, local boards of education will be informing staff of their attendance requirements and details regarding club activities during the temporary closure from Friday 28 February.

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has stated that nursery schools are not included in this request.

The early start to the spring vacation for students across Japan comes as elementary and junior high schools in Hokkaido closed on 27 February, after 15 new cases were reported there, two of which were children under the age of ten.

The northern island of Hokkaido now has the highest number of infected within Japan, with a total of 54 recorded cases, including a teacher and a school bus driver.

The government has said that the next two weeks are critical in containing the outbreak, and are urging for the cancellation or postponement of large-scale events and festivals during this period.

The future of this summer’s Tokyo Olympics is now dependent on early containment of the virus, which has spread to 50 countries and territories, with over 82,000 cases and more than 2,800 deaths reported worldwide.

Source: NHK via Jin
Top image: Pakutaso
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