Japan gov't says pupils should stay home while schools closed over virus
TOKYO, Japan – Japan's education minister Koichi Hagiuda said Friday, February 28, the government wants children to remain indoors at home while elementary, junior and high schools in the country are closed for about a month over coronavirus fears.
"We ask for the cooperation of relevant ministries and agencies so that pupils and students will stay at home in principle and not go outside unless it is necessary," said Hagiuda.
He made the comment as the education ministry formally requested all elementary, junior and high schools in the country to close next Monday, March 2, several weeks ahead of the start of their spring break in late March, as a step to contain an outbreak of the pneumonia-causing virus, which originated in China.
The spring break typically ends in early April before the start of the new school year in Japan.
Hagiuda said the government made the decision because "experts have been saying schools have a high risk of group infection." Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced the school closure plan on Thursday, February 27, to a government task force on the virus.
The move has caused confusion among teachers, students and their parents, who say they have had no time to prepare for the unexpected break.
Education ministry officials said the school closure plan is only a request and not mandatory, and education boards and private school operators still have the option not to close institutions in their jurisdictions.
Hagiuda indicated school boards can be flexible in deciding when and how long the schools will be closed.
"It is okay to make various attempts in reflecting the situations of the local community and schools," he said, while also calling on local education boards to make efforts to avoid considerable delays in study schedules.
But some teachers said they believe keeping schools open is not a realistic option in the face of growing worries about a spread of infections.
"We will be blamed by parents if we do not close when this country's top leader is telling us to do so," said a male teacher in his 30s working at a public elementary school in western Japan.
Referring to the decision's impact on the lives of not just children but their parents, Hagiuda said, "We, as a government, will deal with it in a responsible manner." But he did not elaborate on concrete steps.
Abe said he will request businesses to make it easy for workers to take paid leave, and said the government is considering ways to deal with part-time workers whose income will drop during the period when they cannot work because of the need to take care of children.
Welfare minister Katsunobu Kato said his ministry will coordinate with local governments with regard to care services for elementary school children, citing the issue of how many staff they can secure to cover the period. – Rappler.com