Coronavirus: Japanese PM Shinzo Abe defends school closure plan despite criticism

AFP Tokyo, Japan Feb 28, 2020, 12.46 PM(IST)

File photo: Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Photograph:( Reuters )

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Shinzo Abe's surprise move prompted criticism, with officials saying they had not been consulted and parents questioning how to balance work with the sudden lengthy school holiday.

Japan's prime minister on Friday defended his call for schools across the country to close over the new coronavirus, an abrupt decision that stunned officials and parents alike.

The move, announced Thursday, came as the country stepped up its response to the outbreak, and the operator of Tokyo's Disney resorts said its two parks would close for around a fortnight, the latest in a string of closures and cancellations.

Shinzo Abe's surprise move prompted criticism, with officials saying they had not been consulted and parents questioning how to balance work with the sudden lengthy school holiday.

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But the prime minister defended the decision on Friday, saying 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 parliament.

"We made this decision because we regard it as our political responsibility."

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The government cannot order schools to shut, a power that belongs to local councils, but authorities in many regions said they were neither consulted nor warned about the decision.

"This is shocking news," tweeted Toshihito Kumagai, mayor of the city of Chiba, east of Tokyo.

"How will parents who are medical workers or doing other jobs that support society manage? Society could collapse."

And Aichi Governor Hideaki Omura tweeted that he was "stunned" by the "sudden decision", though he expressed some understanding for the move.

"All of Japan has to deal with this infectious disease," he added.

"It must be Prime Minister Abe's strong determination and he will take responsibility."

The move affects primary schools, high schools and junior high, but nurseries and after-school clubs that also cater to children during holidays will stay open, raising questions about the efficacy of the policy.