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Coronavirus

Hokkaido calls for temporary shutdown of schools to fight virus

Students, teacher and school bus driver among prefecture's 35 confirmed cases

Japan's northernomost main island is experiencing one of the nation's worst coronavirus outbreaks, one that is hitting the prefecture's schools especially hard.

SAPPORO (Kyodo) -- In an effort to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, the education board of Hokkaido will urge local authorities on Wednesday to temporarily close all 1,600 public elementary and junior high schools in the prefecture.

Hokkaido has confirmed a total of 35 people infected with the pneumonia-causing virus that originated in China. As of Tuesday, Japan had 862 people infected with the virus, including 691 who had been quarantined on the Diamond Princess cruise ship.

Among those infected in Hokkaido are students, a teacher and a school bus driver. The prefecture's education board will call for the schools' closure from Thursday, board officials said.

High schools are currently exempt from any request to suspend classes as students are considered old enough to determine for themselves the necessary precautionary measures, they said.

The move is in line with education ministry guidelines presented to local education boards Tuesday that asked for consideration to be given to calling off classes at all schools in areas where multiple infection cases are confirmed. The advisory includes schools that have no confirmed infections among their students.

In the Hokkaido town of Nakafurano, an elementary school where two brothers were found to have been infected with the virus has already decided that it will close through next Tuesday.

In the city of Ebetsu, a junior high school whose male teacher tested positive for the virus will be shut down until March 6.

A high schoolgirl in Tomakomai and a school bus driver in Aibetsu were also found to have been infected.

Nakafurano is approximately 95 kilometers northeast of the prefecture's capital Sapporo, Tomakomai is 50 km to the south, Ebetsu is just 15 km from the center of Sapporo and Aibetsu is some 135 km to the northeast.

With the end of the academic year approaching next month, the education boards of Hokkaido and Sapporo requested that all schools take measures against the virus, such as shortening graduation ceremonies or reducing the number of attendees other than graduates and guardians.

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