Municipalities nationwide are beginning to break with the government’s request to close schools in a bid to contain the new coronavirus outbreak, with some opting to reopen schools earlier than planned after briefly closing their doors.
The city of Urasoe, in Okinawa Prefecture, said Monday that it will move up by three days the restart of all municipally run elementary and junior high schools now closed following the central government’s request. According to the city, the 16 schools there will remain shut until Tuesday, instead of Friday, as earlier planned.
The city made the decision in view of the large burden the measure has placed on families with school-age children and the limited space at after-school child care centers. The city was also encouraged to make the move since no new infections have been reported in the prefecture since Feb. 20.
Kamimori Donguri Jido Club, an after-school child care center in Urasoe, has been accepting schoolchildren from 7:30 a.m. while taking measures to prevent possible infections, including making sure they wash their hands, have their temperatures taken and stay in rooms that are adequately ventilated.
“But we can’t control contact (among children),” said Kinue Kanemoto, head of the center. “Schools may be better at this, from the perspective of preventing infections,” she added, noting their larger size when compared with the after-school centers.
The town of Motegi, in Tochigi Prefecture, has been one of a handful that has not closed its schools, deeming them the best places to keep children’s safe and healthy.
The town allows children to stay home without attending classes if they are worried about infections, with this not being counted as an absence. Of the 746 students at all municipal elementary and junior high schools in the town, however, only a few have chosen to stay home.
On the other hand, some municipalities, including Yokohama, have decided to extend their school closures.
Yokohama will keep its municipal schools shut until March 24. The city earlier planned to end the closures this coming Friday.
Erisa Sugawara, a professor at the graduate school of Tokyo Healthcare University, said that reopening schools immediately may not be the best option at this point in the outbreak.
“It is imperative to bring life back to normal, but it is also crucial to keep up prevention measures,” Sugawara said, stressing the importance of monitoring the health of children’s family members and school staff every day in addition to standard measures such as washing hands regularly.
Sugawara also praised Yokohama’s decision to extend its school closures.
“Major cities have a higher infection risk, and it is a decision that matches the city’s circumstances,” she said.
Meanwhile, the Hokkaido Prefectural Government said Monday that it had launched a measure for students to come to school during the closures to check their health conditions and gauge how their at-home studies are going, beginning with schools in 27 municipalities.
Under the measure, students will go to schools once a week and spend about 60 minutes there per visit. Parents are allowed to decide whether to send their children to school.
For the measure, children at each school are divided into groups, with different groups going at different times.
In the first session, students will be given instructions on preventing infections.
Other municipalities in Hokkaido are slated to follow suit at a later date.
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