This article has been updated to correctly report that the number of confirmed cases has risen to 66 and that Hokkaido is a prefecture.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has ordered schools to be shut down until April as fears rise over the spread of 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
The 65-year-old prime minister on Thursday asked all elementary, middle and high schools nationwide to close its doors until the end of the spring holidays around late March, according to Japan Today.
“The coming week or two is an extremely important time,” Abe said. “This is to prioritize the health and safety of the children and take precautions to avoid the risk of possible large-scale infections.”
Abe’s request to shut down schools until April will affect 12.8 million students at about 34,800 schools in Japan, as noted by the education ministry. However, nursery schools and daycare facilities would still be allowed to operate, the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare said.
The news comes as Japan faces a growing concern over the rise of untraceable cases of COVID-19 throughout the country.
Hokkaido, the prefecture that now has 66 confirmed cases, the largest in Japan outside of the quarantined cruise ship, will reportedly close all 1,600 elementary and middle schools, according to officials.
While some officials from local governments agreed to the request, others criticized Abe’s short notice as this could affect working parents.
“Society will fall apart because of the measures,” Chiba Mayor Toshihito Kumagai said, adding that he would come up with measures to support parents who are out working during the school suspension.
Since the school year is about to end in March and schools have little time for final exams and graduation ceremonies, Abe advised to keep exams and ceremonies to a minimum and to take all necessary precautions.
“There is a risk that the coronavirus infections may yet spread further in Japan,” the prime minister said via Straits Times. “Therefore, I want all the necessary policies to be in place as soon as possible to suppress the spread of the virus and to minimize the impact on lives and the economy.”
“Our graduation ceremony is coming up soon, and it’s quite a hectic time of the year,” Norinobu Sawada, vice-principal of Koizumi Elementary School in Hokkaido’s Kitami, told TBS television. “The most important thing is to prevent infections, so there aren’t many other options.”
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