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Virus infections at Japan schools are grounds for closures over wider area: minister

Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Koichi Hagiuda (Mainichi/Masahiro Kawata)

TOKYO -- Education minister Koichi Hagiuda said Feb. 25 that if infections with the new coronavirus are found at any more schools in Japan, his ministry is set to ask other schools nearby to consider closing even if they have not seen any infections themselves.

Hagiuda was to notify prefectural education boards of the ministry's position on Feb. 25.

Local governments have the final say on whether or not to temporarily close institutions under their jurisdiction, but there are times when it is difficult to make such a decision. Because of this, the ministry decided to present the standard of an infection occurring at a school in the same municipality as a reference.

"Many children come into close contact with each other in class and through club activities," Hagiuda said. "If multiple infections occur, then we want local bodies to take into consideration the option of closing schools across the whole city or town."

In the town of Nakafurano in Japan's northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido, the infection of two schoolboys has been reported, while the city of Chiba east of Tokyo has seen the infection of a junior high school teacher. The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology has told education boards in these and other municipalities that if a school sees an infection, it is desirable to close the class the infected child belongs to or the entire school.

Hagiuda, however, pointed to the risk that temporarily closing schools could delay children's learning or increase the burden on their parents. He said the ministry would present views on the ways children at home would study, and ask local governments to provide support to guardians who watch over children during the day. Hagiuda added that the ministry would consider supplying additional substitute teachers to take over from regular teachers who are absent due to poor health.

(Japanese original by Kenichi Mito, City News Department)

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