• Kyodo

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Teachers and education officials are calling for students to pay special heed to the risk of heat exhaustion this summer as schools across Japan shorten their summer holidays and hold more classes than usual to make up for closures caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Wearing masks is effective in curbing the spread, but I would like (schools) to prioritize their responses to heat exhaustion,” education minister Koichi Hagiuda told a news conference on Friday.

Temperatures have risen rapidly in recent days, prompting the government on Thursday to issue an alert for heat exhaustion covering Tokyo and two surrounding prefectures — the first since the launch of a new system in July.

In June, the education ministry instructed prefectural education boards to take measures to avoid heat-related incidents during school days in August, including recommending students carry water bottles on their way to and from school.

Officials of the Okayama Prefectural Board of Education called for schools in the prefecture to be flexible in their responses to the coronavirus.

“There are times when (schools) should prioritize steps to counter heat exhaustion over new lifestyles” amid the pandemic, the board said, asking teachers to let students remove their masks when they feel hot and find it hard to breathe.

It also urged them to ventilate classrooms, while properly using air conditioners to lower temperatures.

Summer break for prefectural junior and high schools in Okayama will only last from Saturday to Aug. 16 — 34 days shorter than last year.

The shorter holidays stem from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s call in early March for schools to shut down as part of the government’s anti-virus efforts, a measure that continued beyond April, when the school year usually starts.

In Kumagaya, Saitama Prefecture, which set a record high temperature of 41.1 in 2018, the education board is encouraging elementary school pupils to use umbrellas as parasols while maintaining social distancing.

In Takarazuka, Hyogo Prefecture, the relative of a junior high school student who died of heatstroke in 1999 asked teachers and school officials to exercise caution as students emerge from virus restrictions imposed earlier this year.

“Encouragement by teachers to take off masks, drink water and not to endure the heat will prevent heatstroke,” said 62-year-old Katsuya Miyawaki, whose son Kento died at age 13 during rugby training.

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