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About 70 percent of parents are worried about the impact the nationwide school shutdown due to the coronavirus outbreak is having on their children, a survey by a Tokyo-based nonprofit organization showed recently.

Respondents cited children’s mental stress from changes to their daily routine as well as insufficient exercise among their major worries, according to the online poll by Florence, a government-approved child welfare aid group, which surveyed 8,339 parents from March 6 to 9.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe late last month called on all elementary, junior high and high schools across the country to close through early April, forcing parents to find ways to keep their children occupied at home.

Among parents who said they are “anxious” or “very anxious,” 69.9 percent cited children’s lack of exercise as a main factor. Stress from not being able to meet with friends and disruption of studies, both at around 57 percent, came next. Multiple answers were allowed.

More than 50 percent of respondents also cited a dearth of places for kids to stay or play during the day.

The survey quoted one respondent as saying, “I almost hit my kid in a fury after we became stressed out by the school closures,” while another said, “My child’s panic disorder got worse.”

Also, many parents complained that their neighbors looked on them critically if they let their children play outside.

The study also highlighted the financial difficulties the school closures have brought upon some households. One parent even asked for help, saying food expenses had doubled because of the need to provide lunch. A drop in income was a concern for some parents because they were forced to reduce working hours to take care of children.

Osaka Mayor Ichiro Matsui has said his city plans to offer free lunches to all students at municipally run elementary and junior high schools starting in April. The measure is intended to mitigate the economic impact on households from the pandemic.

“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 government will allow classes to begin as scheduled in the new academic year starting next month, education minister Koichi Hagiuda said Friday.

A government panel of medical experts 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.

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