Many schools allowing students to use classrooms despite closure, survey shows

Many schools in major Japanese cities are providing open classrooms for students after the government’s decision to close all elementary, junior high and high schools from March 2 over coronavirus fears as a large number of parents have no other way to look after their children, a Kyodo News survey has shown.

Parents across the country have complained about having little time to prepare for the school closures, prompting 77 percent of surveyed municipalities to provide places to spend time for children of parents who cannot take time off work, according to the survey.

The survey covering 87 urban municipalities was conducted between last Wednesday and Friday.

Although the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had been criticized for not acting quickly to prevent the spread of the coronavirus after cases first emerged in the country in mid-January, families and school operators were caught off guard by his Feb. 27 announcement to close schools for about a month from March 2.

Of the 87 municipalities, 29 said they could not close schools on March 2 as requested by the government as they needed time to ensure young children would be properly looked after and that sufficient measures would be implemented to prevent infections in classrooms, the survey said.

Some officials, however, said preventing infections remains a challege.

“We can provide places to keep children, but providing adequately spacious facilities for all to prevent infection is a different story,” an official with the Himeji municipal government in Hyogo Prefecture, with many of the surveyed municipalities asking the central government to supply enough masks and disinfectant for students unable to stay home alone.

A recent study by a team of scientists from Johns Hopkins University and the Shenzhen Center for Disease Control and Prevention suggested that children are as likely as adults to be infected by the virus, which causes a respiratory disease called COVID-19.

The report, however, said children are less likely to develop severe symptoms if infected.

Abe said in a meeting Saturday to discuss additional measures to cope with the virus that the government will shoulder all necessary costs at schools providing care for children and compensate parents forced to take leave.

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