The government plans to unveil detailed guidelines on the reopening of schools after monitoring the spread of coronavirus infections and taking expert advice, its top spokesman said Wednesday.
A growing number of infections, particularly in urban areas such as Tokyo, have raised questions about when schools, most of which shut in late February in response to a government request, can resume classes. The new Japanese academic year normally begins in early April.
“The education ministry plans to announce more detailed guidelines after taking into account discussions by the government panel of medical experts and the situation of infections, which is changing day by day,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a press conference.
The education ministry in late March notified local education boards of steps to be followed when they reopen schools, such as ensuring that classrooms are properly ventilated.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has indicated that the government would review its decision to allow schools to resume classes depending on opinions expressed at the panel, which is to meet later in the day.
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Tokyo registered 78 new coronavirus infections Monday, the largest daily increase. The number of cases reported nationwide the same day surpassed 200, the biggest for a single day, bringing the total to some 2,900, including about 700 from the Diamond Princess quarantined cruise ship.
The Tokyo metropolitan government is considering keeping public schools closed for a while, possibly until early May when the country’s Golden Week holiday ends, sources familiar with the matter said.
“We need to think about (burdens for) parents as well (if schools remain shut). We hope to say what we intend to do as soon as possible,” Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike told reporters.
Abe requested school closures in late February, forcing many working parents to take time off to look after their children at home.
The recent spike in infections in Tokyo has raised alarm among government officials and medical experts, stoking fears of a citywide lockdown.
Suga said Japan is still facing a “critical moment.” But he also repeated that the current situation does not call for a state of emergency declaration.
The coronavirus outbreak is also expected to seriously impact the Japanese economy, which has been already under pressure from last October’s consumption tax hike and subsequent slowdowns in household spending and business investment.
Abe told a parliamentary session that the government will compile its boldest-ever stimulus package next week, while also pledging to extend support to domestic airlines hit by travel bans or restrictions by many countries due to the virus.
“Air traffic is our fundamental infrastructure. In order to achieve an economic recovery, we should not leave the basic infrastructure damaged,” Abe said.
An industry body has estimated that Japanese airlines will suffer a total of 1 trillion yen ($9.3 billion) revenue fall over the next 12 months.