Coronavirus: Japan to close all public schools for a month, starting March 2

VIDEO: REUTERS
The decision comes after Hokkaido shut its 1,600 public schools from Thursday as the number of coronavirus cases in the prefecture grew.
The decision comes after Hokkaido shut its 1,600 public schools from Thursday as the number of coronavirus cases in the prefecture grew.PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO - Japan will close all public schools from next Monday (March 2) until April 6 to fight the coronavirus outbreak, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Thursday (Feb 27).

The move, which needs to be formalised by the education authorities, comes after Hokkaido shut its 1,600 public schools from Thursday as the number of coronavirus cases in the prefecture grew.

Another 13 new cases, including two children under the age of 10, were confirmed on Thursday, bringing the prefectural total to 54.

Separately, Ichikawa City in Chiba will also shut its public elementary and junior high schools from Friday after three cases were linked to the same sports club.

Mr Abe said at the outset of the 15th coronavirus taskforce meeting on Thursday: "The next week or two will be crucial in fighting the coronavirus outbreak."

He added: "Above all else, the health and safety of the children should be prioritised, and we should be prepared for the risk of large-scale infections due to many children and teachers gathering for long periods of time on a daily basis."

The closure, which affects elementary schools, junior high schools and senior high schools, is expected to extend into the spring break, which starts on March 25, with schools to reopen on April 6. The rising coronavirus fears have already led some schools to cancel graduation ceremonies.

Mr Abe also called on schools that are going ahead with their graduation ceremonies and entrance examinations to scale down the events to ensure the bare minimum number of attendees.

“There is a risk that the coronavirus infections may yet spread further in Japan,” Mr Abe said. “Therefore, I want all the necessary policies to be in place as soon as possible to suppress the spread of the virus and to minimise the impact on lives and the economy.”

As of 7pm Japan time (6pm in Singapore), Japan had 210 reported cases of Covid-19, with four deaths.

There are another 705 confirmed infections on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, with four deaths.