Working parents in Japan were shocked by the government’s abrupt request Thursday to close all elementary, junior high and high schools to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.
Many double-income and single-parent households expressed confusion and frustration over the development, with some saying the decision was made too hastily and others scrambling to make arrangements to make sure their children are looked after.
At a meeting Thursday of the government’s task force on countermeasures against COVID-19, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called on all such institutions, including private schools and special schools for children with disabilities, to close from Monday until the end of spring break.
“It’s totally different from having the children stay at home during the summer break,” said Megumi Nagano, a 45-year-old instructor at a computer school in Chiba.
“School club activities will also be halted, and there will be no study courses like summer sessions available for children to attend,” said Nagano, who has a 9-year-old daughter in elementary school and a 13-year-old son in junior high school. Her husband is a salaried worker.
“Our children will be staying at home the whole time, so I feel sorry for them,” she said.
A 40-year-old single mother in Fukuoka said, “I doubt shutting down schools alone will have significance.”
“Unless companies suspend their operations, parents could bring the coronavirus to their homes,” she said. The mother usually works between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. The woman’s parents usually look after her 10-year-old daughter after school.
“I will have to ask my company to shorten my work hours,” she said. “I will suffer serious economic damage, as I work on an hourly wage.”
A 36-year-old company employee from Yokohama who has a 7-year-old girl with her husband, who also works, said that although the emergency closure is understandable in light of the importance of protecting children, she was frustrated with the government’s initial failure to prevent the spread of the virus.
“I have to overcome the situation by telecommuting and with support from my husband and my parents,” she said.
A corporate worker in her 40s in Saitama who is married to a working husband complained, “Not many companies in Japan are prepared to introduce telecommuting.”
“I wonder how far parents should restrict our children’s activities” to prevent them from having contact with others, she said. The couple have an elementary school girl and a nursery school toddler.
“I don’t think my children will be able to stay at home for over a month,” she said.
In the meantime, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry on Thursday called on nursery schools and after-school day care facilities to stay open to support double-income households affected by the nationwide school closure request.
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