Japan is asking all elementary, junior high and senior high schools to close after this week and not reopen until after their spring break ends in April, in a bid to protect children from COVID-19.
Announcing the move, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he is “putting health and safety of children first above all.”
“Normally, schools in Japan typically begin spring breaks in late March,” Japan’s NHK News reports. “They will now be effectively asked to start their holidays early.”
The nationwide shutdown comes after jurisdictions in Hokkaido and Chiba announced plans to close their schools to avoid close contact that could spread the virus.
As Japan fights to contain the coronavirus, “the next one to two weeks will be of critical importance,” Abe said, laying out his plans at Japan’s Novel Coronavirus Response Headquarters on Thursday.
Japan’s government is also asking businesses and other employers to give wide latitude to their employees, both to allow them to take leave if they feel ill and to accommodate parents who now face an unplanned stretch of several weeks without school.
The government will address “various issues caused by these measures,” Abe added.
In another new development, Japanese health officials say a woman who had recovered from COVID-19 and was released from care has been found to have the virus again. An Osaka resident, the woman was originally diagnosed on Jan. 29, when she became Japan’s eighth patient. She’s now listed as patient No. 148.
Japan currently has 210 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, according to its Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. But that figure omits more than 700 cases from the Diamond Princess cruise ship. The ship became one of the world’s largest clusters of COVID-19 cases outside of mainland China as it sat for weeks in quarantine at a port in Yokohama.