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Ninety-one people at a high school in Shimane Prefecture have tested positive in recent days for the novel coronavirus in a cluster outbreak centered on the boys’ soccer team, according to local authorities.

Of the total, 88 are members of the soccer team at the coeducational Rissho Shonan High School in the city of Matsue, and 82 of them live in the same dormitory. The team has played matches outside the prefecture since late July, fueling concerns about a wider spread of the virus.

The cluster of infections at the school, detected over the three-day holiday through Monday, raised the total number of novel coronavirus cases in Shimane Prefecture to 126.

All 91 people who tested positive at the school have either no symptoms or only mild symptoms of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus, the authorities said.

In addition to soccer club members, two teachers involved with the team and a baseball player at the school, which has a total of 350 students and staff members, were found to be infected with the virus. The first case, which involved a soccer player, was confirmed Saturday.

A man in his 70s who visited the dorm and three members of his family have also tested positive for the virus. The students and teachers infected at the school have been hospitalized or remain at the dorm, the authorities said.

Naoki Kitamura (right), principal of Rissho Shonan High School in Matsue, Shimane Prefecture, apologizes during a news conference in the early hours of Tuesday. | KYODO
Naoki Kitamura (right), principal of Rissho Shonan High School in Matsue, Shimane Prefecture, apologizes during a news conference in the early hours of Tuesday. | KYODO

“We deeply apologize for causing great worry and trouble,” said the high school’s principal, Naoki Kitamura, in the early hours of Tuesday.

The high school’s soccer team is considered one of the best in Shimane Prefecture and has played practice matches since the end of July against teams in Osaka, Tottori and Kagawa Prefectures.

The first soccer player found to be infected with the virus did not participate in those games. Matsue municipal authorities are investigating how many club members took part in the matches to help trace further possible infections.

Matsue officials said Tuesday that several club members who later tested positive had participated in matches in Kagawa Prefecture.

“If there is a possibility the virus was spread, even if negligible, we would like people to be tested. We will trace (infections) completely,” Shimane Gov. Tatsuya Maruyama told reporters Sunday at Matsue’s city hall.

On Monday, Matsue authorities disinfected a city-run sports facility that was used by the soccer team on Friday.

Education minister Koichi Hagiuda said Tuesday that there were no restrictions over school sports teams taking trips across prefectural borders, but urged schools to take thorough preventive measures.

“It’s the first case where a cluster of this size has happened at one school. We need to carefully examine the situation,” Hagiuda said.

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