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Parents speak of pressure, concern after sudden school closure request by Japan gov't

A notice at an entrance to an elementary school in Kitahiroshima, Hokkaido, advising that the school will be temporarily closed is seen in this Feb. 27, 2020 photo. (Mainichi/Kimi Takeuchi)

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's sudden request on Feb. 27 for all elementary, junior and high schools to temporarily close from March 2 until spring vacation as part of measures against the spread of the new coronavirus has left many children's guardians concerned as to how they will manage the change at short notice.

"My husband and I both work, and I don't know what to do," said one woman, 36, who works for an association in the city of Akita in the northeastern prefecture of the same name. She has three daughters: a 7-year-old in the first grade of elementary school, a 4-year-old at kindergarten and a 2-year-old in day care.

Her husband, a public servant, cannot take time off work, and she isn't sure if she will be able to either. It's also undecided as to who they could drop the kids off with in the event that schools do close. Her pay is on a part-time system, so if she were to take time off work there would be a direct effect on her income.

Additionally, her husband is being transferred for work, and consequently the family will move to Tokyo in April. If her eldest daughter's school does decide to close its doors, then Feb. 28 was her last chance to say goodbye to her friends. "I think the children are also sad," she said.

A 34-year-old nurse and her company employee husband living in Fujimino in Saitama Prefecture just outside Tokyo have a 9-year-old daughter in the third grade of elementary school and a 2-year-old daughter in day care. Expressing her concern, she said, "When I think of the kids I feel I have to take time off, but can I?"

The woman works at a general hospital in the prefecture. Patients suspected of having been infected with the new coronavirus are being placed in isolated wards, which requires the hospital to secure more staff members. "There already aren't enough people working, so even one person taking time off makes it hard. I wonder if work will be able to keep going."

A 47-year-old woman who runs her own business in Tokyo has three school-age children. Although her work affords her flexibility, it's difficult for her to also prepare lunches and other things for the children while they're off school. "I know that cancelling classes is something that needs to be done considering the situation, but I wonder if the children will be able to just stay at home."

Before Prime Minister Abe's announcement, the western Japan city of Osaka had already decided to temporarily close all of its municipal schools starting Feb. 29.

A homemaker, 44, with two sons, in the fifth and second grades of elementary school, and a daughter in kindergarten, said, "What should double income families do? The responsibility has all been put on households. The other mothers around me are all against it."

But some others struck a different tone. A self-employed, 43-year-old man said, "I'm thankful that measures are being taken in advance." Another male company executive, aged 45, who has a daughter in the first grade of junior high school had a message for schools: "Don't forget to rearrange the curriculum to follow up on what's happened."

(Japanese original by Buntaro Saito, City News Department; Tomoko Mimata, Local News Group; Hiroaki Homma, Hokkaido News Department Nemuro; and Takeshi Honda, Hokkaido News Department Kitami)

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