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Editorial: Strike balance between COVID infection prevention and learning for children

The fall term has begun at many schools amid the spread of coronavirus infections. Those on the ground are stumbling around trying to strike a balance between preventing infections and promoting students' learning.

    There are growing numbers of COVID-19 cases among children due to the rampant spread of the virus's delta variant, and group infections have also been confirmed in various places across the country. Concerns that infections will spread from schools to homes have risen.

    Japanese government guidelines instruct schools to consider shutting down a class if multiple children in it are found to have the coronavirus. But in some municipalities, schools are told to take even stricter approaches, closing entirely if even one person is confirmed to be infected.

    According to a government survey, over 10% of local governments nationwide extended summer break or instituted region-wide school closings. Meanwhile, cases of families keeping their children out of school by choice have begun to stand out. In some instances, the decision involves family members who have preexisting conditions. The various circumstances that each household faces need to be considered.

    It is important to pay heed to the prevention of infections, while not bringing children's learning to a halt. A system in which students can learn in person or online -- depending on the wishes of individual students and their families -- should be set up as soon as possible.

    Attention must be given to the impact that school closures have on everyday life as well. Online connections should be used effectively for school teachers and other staff to keep track of how children are faring amid the pandemic.

    To prevent cluster infections in schools, preventing cases among school teachers and staff is indispensable.

    The government has decided to distribute coronavirus antigen test kits, which can quickly test to see if one is infected with the virus, to elementary, junior high and high schools. As a general rule, the tests are aimed at school teachers and other staff, but there may be cases in which children who complain of suddenly feeling sick get tested under the supervision of a school teacher or staffer. If they test positive, there is a risk that teachers and staff could become infected, too.

    Under the current circumstances, there are more than a few school teachers and staff who have yet to be vaccinated. In regions where vaccinations are lagging, they must be sped up for people who wish to be vaccinated.

    If the coronavirus pandemic continues for a long time, the impact on children's learning and lives will be immense. At that point, it's possible that efforts made by teachers and staff may not be enough to ensure the health and learning of students.

    The Japanese and local governments must lend an ear to educators on the ground and take steps to provide the necessary support.

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