In response to the spread of the new coronavirus, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe indicated his intention to request that all elementary, junior high and high schools across Japan close from March 2. The shutdown would continue through the end of spring break, effectively lasting about a month. It is an extremely unusual measure lasting for a long period of time.
The prime minister has cited “children’s health and safety” as a priority, and the reduction of infection risks as the purpose of the measure.
It is a response to a state of emergency, but the move’s impact on the everyday lives of the public cannot be avoided. Measures that will prevent confusion must be implemented.
In Hokkaido, Chiba and Ishikawa prefectures, steps had already been taken to temporarily close schools. In Hokkaido, all elementary and junior high schools are closed for a week.
Schools are essentially places of communal living. There’s a chance that once an infection begins to spread, it will continue to go unchecked.
Abe was likely motivated to make a pre-emptive move because his coronavirus infection countermeasures until now had been lagging behind.
However, there is no denying that the prime minister’s announcement was abrupt. That’s because it was not a part of the government’s basic policy, as was the recent request for voluntary cancellations of large-scale events. The government should respond responsibly to the various challenges that accompany the no-school measure.
With Abe’s announcement, local governments across the country are under pressure to respond swiftly. To keep confusion at a bare minimum, the prime minister must provide a detailed explanation at an early date.
It is not just the schools that are impacted by the latest developments. The burden on children and their guardians must be taken into consideration.
If schools are closed, children from families where both parents are working or from single-parent households will have to stay home on their own. This will especially be cause for concern for parents of young children. The cooperation of the parents’ employers to allow them to take time off of work to be with their children, or to work from home, will be essential.
Non-regular workers’ livelihoods will be at stake if they go unpaid while staying home. Such issues must be considered by the government as well.
Furthermore, steps that should be taken to make up for lost time in students’ studies due to school closures, and considerations for a smooth reopening of schools must not be forgotten.
The Japanese government has said that for the time being, it will not request that day care centers be closed. However, we cannot deny that there is a possibility that circumstances may change, as could that policy. We must be prepared well in advance.