Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced Thursday that Japan will close its schools until April in a bid to halt the spread of coronavirus.
“Efforts have been made to prevent the spread of infection among children in each region, and these one or two weeks will be an extremely critical period,” Abe told ministers ahead of a coronavirus meeting. He added that the government “attaches top priority to the health and safety of children, among others.”
The request specifically mentioned elementary, middle, and high schools, and Abe did not mention universities or day-care centers.
Japan usually ends school in late March, with the new school year beginning in April after a break. Statistics show that approximately 13.7 million children in nearly 38,000 schools will be affected by the request.
Cases of coronavirus have steadily risen over recent weeks, with 186 domestic diagnoses and four deaths as of Thursday, along with over 700 cases and four deaths aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked in Yokohama, Japan.
Before Abe’s announcement, other Japanese officials had already moved to close local school districts, with the mayor of Osaka, Japan’s third-largest city, saying that he had asked schools to close until March 13.
Infection numbers have dramatically risen outside of China in recent weeks, with U.S. officials warning earlier this week that outbreak among Americans was likely. “It’s not so much of a question of if this will happen in this country any more but a question of when this will happen,” CDC official Nancy Messonnier told reporters.
During a press conference Wednesday evening, President Trump attempted to reassure Americans, saying the risk of an outbreak “remains very low.”
“I don’t think it is inevitable. I think we are doing a really good job. There is a chance it could get worse. There is a chance if could get fairly, substantially worse. Nothing is inevitable,” Trump said.