National

Virus-hit Japanese schools close in the lead-up to graduation ceremonies

Kyodo

Schools hit by COVID-19 in Japan called off classes Tuesday, while other schools were asked by local education boards to consider shortening or downsizing upcoming graduation ceremonies.

In Hokkaido, where 30 people have been infected with the pneumonia-causing virus, a number of schools remained closed after the three-day weekend through Monday.

An elementary school in Nakafurano will be closed through March 3 after two brothers tested positive for the virus, while the education board of Ebetsu decided to close a junior high school in its district through March 6 after a male teacher there was infected.

A preschool, an elementary school and a junior high school in Aibetsu shut their doors for a day to disinfect their facilities after the driver of a bus used by the schools was found to be infected.

With the end of the academic year approaching next month, education boards in the prefecture asked all schools to take measures to prevent the spread of the virus at graduation ceremonies by shortening them or reducing the number of attendees.

Education minister Koichi Hagiuda said the government plans to ask schools to consider closing if the coronavirus spreads in areas where they are located, even if they have yet to confirm infections among their students.

“When multiple people are infected, we want cities and towns to consider the option of closing all schools” in their jurisdictions, he said, adding the government will also ask local governments to take support measures for parents.

Akita International University in the city of Akita said it has decided to postpone its graduation and entrance ceremonies scheduled for March and April, respectively, in the wake of the outbreak.

In the city of Chiba, where a female teacher at a city-run junior high school was found to be infected with the virus, the school decided to call off classes through March 4.

“We need to strengthen measures for schools,” said Chiba Mayor Toshihito Kumagai.

A junior high school in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, has also decided to remain shut through March 5 after a male student was infected. It will also postpone the final exam for the semester and suspend extracurricular activities.

Meanwhile, entrance exams for 168 national and public universities across Japan began Tuesday as scheduled, with most test-takers wearing masks.

“I’ve done everything I can,” said Yoshiharu Suzuki, 18, from Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, before taking the exam at the University of Tokyo. “Now it’s up to fate.”

Each university has asked test-takers to wear masks and come forward if they do not feel well during the exam.

For those who cannot take the exam due to coronavirus infection, some universities will refer to their scores on standardized preliminary examinations for university applicants to decide their admission status.

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