Japan to reopen schools closed for coronavirus after spring recess

FILE PHOTO: Students sit apart from each other as they do self-study at an elementary school where the facility was opened for children who cannot stay at home alone while their parents are at work, in Nagoya, central Japan March 3, 2020, in this photo taken by Kyodo. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese Education Minister Koichi Hagiuda said on Friday the government would not extend its request that schools be closed until spring break to stem coronavirus infections, setting the stage for classes to resume at the start of the academic year in April.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last month asked the entire school system, from elementary to high schools, to close until spring recess late in March to help contain the epidemic.

“As for the across-the-board closure of schools until spring holidays that the government has requested, we have agreed not to extend it,” Hagiuda told reporters after a ministerial task force met to discuss measures to fight the spread of the virus.

The closures have been roundly criticised as counter-intuitive, disruptive and risky given it has pushed tens of thousands of pupils into daycare centres instead.

At the taskforce meeting, Abe said event organisers need to remain cautious on holding large-scale gatherings, citing experts’ views.

An expert panel guiding Japan’s coronavirus response recommended on Thursday that large gatherings and enclosed areas that could reignite the contagion should still be avoided.

Cases of coronavirus infection came to 1,693 in Japan including those from a cruise ship moored near Tokyo last month, with deaths totalling 41, according to Kyodo news agency.

Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Toby Chopra and Elaine Hardcastle