Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe yesterday defended his call for schools across the country to close over COVID-19, an abrupt decision that stunned officials and parents.
The move, announced on Thursday, came as the country is stepping up its response to the virus and the operator of Tokyo’s Disney resorts said that its two parks would close for about two weeks — the latest in a string of closures.
Abe’s surprise move prompted criticism, with officials saying that they had not been consulted and parents questioning how to balance work with the sudden lengthy school holiday.
Abe defended the plan, saying that the government “received expert views that the coming one or two weeks are crucial.”
“We have to prevent emergence of a new cluster of patients among children,” he told lawmakers.
The government cannot order schools to shut, a power that belongs to local councils, but authorities in many regions said that they were neither consulted nor warned about the decision.
“This is shocking news,” Chiba Mayor Toshihito Kumagai said on Twitter. “How will parents who are medical workers or doing other jobs that support society manage? Society could collapse.”
The move affects elementary schools and high schools, but nurseries and after-school clubs that also cater to children during holidays would stay open, raising questions about the efficacy of the policy.
“I’m really angry about this decision, which won’t do anything to protect children,” one mother of two told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity. “What are we supposed to do? Leave them alone at home, send them to a daycare ... leave them with grandparents? I wish the government had thought this through more.”
Another mother said that she was “in shock.”
“My company doesn’t offer telecommuting, so I’m going to have to take days off,” she added. “Financially, it’s very difficult.”
However, others were more understanding, with Miho Matsuno, a mother on maternity leave, saying that measures to contain the virus were necessary.
“I think that we have to do the maximum possible, even if it seems excessive,” she told reporters.
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