Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s request for school closures won’t be extended and classes will start as scheduled when the new academic year kicks off in April, the education minister said Friday.
Addressing a government coronavirus task force, Abe instructed the education ministry to draw up plans for reopening schools after spring break ends early next month.
But he remained cautious on his approach to large public events, asking organizers to carefully examine whether such gatherings are necessary in light of the mass infection risks.
Abe’s remarks came a day after a government panel of medical experts said Japan had so far avoided a surge of infections but warned that explosive increases were still possible. The panel said some of these spikes had already emerged mainly in urban areas.
The panel said school activities can resume in areas with no new infections but recommended that organizers carefully consider plans for large gatherings to reduce the risk of mass infection.
“We confirmed that our school closure request will not be extended,” Koichi Hagiuda, minister of education, culture, sports, science and technology, told journalists after the task force met at the Prime Minister’s Office.
His ministry will compile guidelines early next week, he said.
Medical experts say that the elderly and people with existing medical conditions are more likely to develop severe symptoms if infected with the pneumonia-causing virus.
Total infections in Japan topped 1,600 in February, including the roughly 700 from the Diamond Princess cruise ship that was quarantined in Yokohama.
Of the 47 prefectures, five have reported over 100 cases, including hardest-hit Hokkaido, Tokyo and Osaka.
Based on the panel’s previous assessment in late February, Abe had requested that large sports and cultural events be canceled, postponed or scaled down and that all schools be shut from March 2 until the end of spring break.
Abe said earlier in the month he would wait for the panel’s assessment on Thursday before deciding on an extension.
“We need to minimize the impact on society and the economy but our priority is on protecting people’s lives and health so we will step up efforts to prevent infections from spreading further,” Abe told the task force.
He stressed the need for people to take preventive steps, such as keeping away from crowded areas and closed spaces with poor ventilation