The prefectural education board of Hokkaido decided Wednesday to request all public elementary and junior high schools in the northernmost Japan prefecture to close down, in an effort to prevent a further spread of the new coronavirus, according to informed sources.
The number of closure days is yet to be fixed.
The board will notify municipal school boards of the request within Wednesday, the sources said. School closures are expected to start as early as Thursday.
This will be the first case in which public elementary and junior high schools are asked to shut down on an all-prefecture basis in Japan as a measure to contain the spread of the virus.
Japan's education ministry had asked prefectural education boards across the country to actively consider temporarily closing schools, including those with no case of infection, if an infection case is reported at a school in a nearby area.
In Hokkaiodo, there are 1,020 public elementary schools, 575 public junior high schools and six public schools integrating elementary and junior high schools, according to the prefectural education board.
"I, as the governor, think that measures, including school closures, need to be studied," Hokkaido Governor Naomichi Suzuki said at a prefectural countermeasures headquarters meeting in Sapporo, the capital of Hokkaido, on Tuesday, instructing the head of the prefectural education board to deal with the matter.
As of Tuesday, 35 people in Hokkaido had been found infected with the virus, including two elementary school students in the town of Nishifurano, a junior high school teacher in the city of Ebetsu and a school lunch staff member at an elementary school in the same city.
On Tuesday, education minister Koichi Hagiuda said, "I want education boards to consider the drastic option of closing all schools on a city or town scale, if multiple infection cases are confirmed in a municipality."
In case of school closures, the ministry called on schools to take measures such as giving supplementary lessons to prevent students from lagging behind in their studies. It also said that schools will be allowed to offer self-study classes if they find it difficult to secure substitutes for teachers who take time off from work due to symptoms such as fever.
The ministry has not asked schools to voluntary refrain from holding graduation and entrance ceremonies, while asking school boards in areas where many infection cases have been confirmed to consider postponing or changing the forms of such ceremonies.