• Jiji, staff report

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The government's top COVID-19 adviser Shigeru Omi is warning that the medical system could be strained further, once students go back to school after the summer holidays amid the rapid spread of the coronavirus in the country.

"Even if the spread of infections slows down, it could accelerate again after the new school term starts, possibly straining medical capacity," Omi, head of a government advisory panel on the nation's COVID-19 response, said at an off-session meeting of the House of Representatives' Committee on Health, Labor and Welfare on Wednesday.

Still, Omi said he believes elementary schools can give in-person classes if infection countermeasures are taken, while noting that universities should conduct lessons online.

"I don't think that elementary schools have to be closed or switch to online classes," he said.

Omi also sought the promotion of COVID-19 vaccinations for teachers to prevent the virus from being transmitted from them to children.

Universities should utilize health monitoring apps to detect students feeling unwell and have them take antigen tests, Omi said.

"Students engaged in extracurricular sports club activities involving physical contact should take antigen tests right before the start of such activities. Competitions should be postponed or canceled," Omi told reporters before the Lower House committee meeting.

Also on Wednesday, a health ministry survey showed that school infections accounted for the largest portion of coronavirus cases found among people between the ages of 16 and 18 in Japan from the spring.

The survey, presented to the ministry's advisory board, found that 45.7 % of those in the age bracket were infected at school, while infections at home accounted for the majority of cases among those between the ages of 3 and 15.

The survey covered reports of coronavirus infections filed between April 1 and July 22 on the health ministry's HER-SYS system for managing infection data.

The advisory board called for strengthening measures to prevent infections at schools, but it also stopped short of seeking blanket school closures.

"Unlike influenza infection cases, schools have not led regional (coronavirus) outbreaks," Takaji Wakita, director-general of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, who heads the advisory board, told reporters at a news conference.

On possible measures, he cited online classes at universities depending on local infection situations and postponements or cancellations of competitions for extracurricular club activities.

The government has been grappling with how to restart the school year amid a surge in virus infections. The education ministry has said it is reluctant to ask schools to close, but some local school districts have delayed the start of the new term.

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike last week urged steps like shorter classroom hours or limiting the number of students in attendance on a rotation, with some students studying remotely.

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