National

Osaka eyes offering free school meals starting in April amid virus spread

Kyodo

Osaka plans to offer free lunch meals for all students at municipally run elementary and junior high schools starting April amid the spread of the novel coronavirus, Mayor Ichiro Matsui said Tuesday.

The measure, the first of its kind by a major Japanese city, is intended to mitigate the economic impact on households from the virus epidemic, although it is not known whether schools — which have closed since March 2 — will reopen after spring break through early April.

“We would like to create a situation that would allow child-rearing generations shouldering economic burdens to feel at ease” with the free school lunch program, Matsui said.

The program will cover students regardless of family income, allowing families to annually save between ¥50,000 ($470) and ¥60,000 per child, he said.

The city estimates the cost will total ¥7.7 billion a year, the funding of which for fiscal 2020 starting in April will involve its public finance adjustment reserve.

The city plans to continue the program beyond the next fiscal year and discuss details such as how to secure funding for fiscal 2021 and beyond.

The city had been studying ways to offer free public school meals in the past but could not determine how to fund it.

Schools have closed across Japan to fight the pneumonia-causing virus that has infected more than 1,500 people in the country, of which 700 are from the Diamond Princess, the cruise ship that had been quarantined near Tokyo.

More than 100 infection cases have been confirmed in Osaka Prefecture alone.

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