The autumn school term is about to start in the teeth of Japan’s 5th coronavirus infection wave. Cases among children are on the increase, and there are many parents and guardians worried about sending their own charges back into the classroom.
According to the health ministry, some 23,000 people aged under 20 were infected across the country in the week that ended Aug. 17. That is over four times the number recorded during the peak of the fourth wave in mid-May this year, and it appears the highly infectious delta variant is responsible.
The number of cluster infections in school clubs and cram schools over the summer holiday has been striking. And if classes are to restart as scheduled, then far more care must be taken to reduce infection risks in schools than has hitherto been the case.
It is thought that many children infected with the coronavirus display mild to no symptoms. So there is real concern that students could pick up the virus at school without knowing it, bring it home and infect their family. It is important to thoroughly analyze the current infection situation, and make implementing effective countermeasures a top priority.
First, school club cluster infections must be prevented. There have been cluster cases linked to club members having meals together. Strong guidance needs to be provided, including how members should behave after practice. Furthermore, in addition to teachers and other school staff, vaccinations need to move forward for all adults who come into close contact with children outside class. This ought to apply to cram school instructors and sports coaches.
It is also important to build transmission countermeasures bases on the infection situation among different age groups and the realities of school life. According to an education ministry analysis, most COVID-19 cases among primary school children are due to in-family transmissions. Meanwhile high school students have a wider range of activity, and it has proven impossible to pin down the infection route in many cases. However, not a few infections have been traced to their schools.
The education ministry has indicated it is not considering calling for a nationwide school closure. However, depending on infection conditions down the road, it seems likely that short-term closures may become an option at the local or even school-by-school level. Already, there are local governments that have decided to extend summer vacation or implement staggered school commutes for the time being.
What is vitally important is to implement thorough infection countermeasures while making sure education is not interrupted. Authorities must quickly get ready to put classes online.
It is also essential to keep a close eye on the impact of boosted coronavirus countermeasures on the children’s physical and emotional well-being. To reduce the worries of parents and guardians, it is important to carefully communicate the infection situation at schools and their measures to deal with it.