Hokkaido eyes temporary closure of all schools to fight virus

In an effort to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, the education board of Hokkaido will urge local authorities on Wednesday to temporarily close all public and private elementary and junior high schools in the prefecture.
The prefecture's education board will call for the schools' closure from Thursday, board officials said. Japan's northernmost main island has some 1,600 public elementary and junior high schools.
Hokkaido has confirmed a total of 35 people are infected with the pneumonia-causing virus that originated in China. Among those infected are students, a teacher and a school bus driver.
As of Tuesday, Japan had 862 people infected with the virus, including 691 who were quarantined on the Diamond Princess cruise ship. The first prefecture-wide school closures due to the COVID-19 disease are expected to last for several days, a Hokkaido government official said.
High schools are currently exempt from any request to suspend classes as students are considered old enough to determine for themselves the necessary precautionary measures, they said.
The move is in line with central government guidelines that asked for consideration to be given to calling off classes at all schools and closing down day-care centers in areas where multiple infection cases are confirmed.
The advisory covers institutions that have no confirmed infection cases.
In cases of day-care center closures, the welfare ministry has asked local authorities to think of alternative plans such as sending childcare workers to homes.
In the Hokkaido town of Nakafurano, an elementary school where two brothers were found to have been infected with the virus has already decided that it will close through next Tuesday.
In the city of Ebetsu, a junior high school whose male teacher tested positive for the virus will be shut down until March 6.
A high school girl in Tomakomai and a school bus driver in Aibetsu were also found to have been infected.
Nakafurano is approximately 95 kilometers northeast of the prefecture's capital Sapporo, Tomakomai is 50 km to the south, Ebetsu is just 15 km from the center of Sapporo and Aibetsu is some 135 km to the northeast.
With the end of the academic year approaching next month, the education boards of Hokkaido and Sapporo requested that all schools take measures against the virus, such as shortening graduation ceremonies or reducing the number of attendees other than graduates and guardians.
In May 2009, schools across Osaka and Hyogo prefectures in western Japan, hit hard by the new H1N1 strain of influenza A, were closed for a week.

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