National

Hokkaido announces prefecture's first COVID-19 fatality

Prefecture asks public elementary and junior high schools to close temporarily

Kyodo

Hokkaido announced its first COVID-19 death on Wednesday, as the prefectural education board urged local authorities to temporarily close all public elementary and junior high schools in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

The prefectural government said an elderly person from Hakodate had died Tuesday and was later confirmed to have been infected with the new virus. The government did not disclose the sex of the person.

Separately, a man in his 80s also died in Tokyo on Wednesday from coronavirus, the health ministry said, bringing the number of fatalities in the country to seven, including that of four people who were on the cruise ship Diamond Princess.

A total 31 new infections were reported so far on Wednesday, including five cases in Nagoya, four in Hokkaido, including the elderly person who died, three each in Tokyo and Chiba Prefecture and one each in Kanagawa and Nagano prefectures. The health ministry also reported 14 new infections on the cruise ship, including five passengers and nine crew members.

Hokkaido’s education board also called for schools to be closed from Thursday until March 4. The prefecture has around 1,600 public elementary and junior high schools. The closures will be the first such move on a prefecture-wide basis due to COVID-19.

High schools are exempt from any request to suspend classes because students are considered old enough to decide for themselves if precautions are needed.

The move is in line with guidelines presented Tuesday by the education ministry to local education boards, asking them to consider calling off classes at all schools and closing down day care centers in areas where multiple cases have been confirmed. The guidelines include schools with no confirmed student infections.

In the central town of Nakafurano, approximately 95 kilometers northeast of the prefecture’s capital Sapporo, an elementary school where two brothers were found to have been infected had already decided to close through Tuesday.

In the city of Ebetsu, 15 km east of Sapporo, a junior high school where a male teacher tested positive for the virus will be shut down until March 6.

A high school girl in Tomakomai, a child day care center worker in Asahikawa and a school bus driver in Aibetsu were also found to have been infected. Tomakomai is 50 km south of Sapporo while 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 have 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, then facing the new H1N1 strain of influenza A, were closed for a week.

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