Authorities, parents must be vigilant as virus affects start of school term

The new school term has begun in many parts of the country with the fifth wave of novel coronavirus infections not yet under control. As the number of children infected with the virus is increasing, schools need to be more vigilant than ever.

According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, the number of people under 20 who were confirmed to have been infected with the virus in the past week exceeded 30,000, a record high. There has been a spate of mass infections linked to cram schools and school clubs, among other places. Cases of children infecting their parents at home are also becoming more noticeable.

The highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus has been spreading. Attention should be paid to ensure that the infections will not spread in local communities through children. Because children under 12 are not eligible for vaccinations, it is important for adults around them, mainly parents and guardians, teachers and other school personnel, to get vaccinated actively.

Children infected with the virus often have mild or no symptoms. If parents notice symptoms, they should have their children checked immediately and ensure they do not go to school or out to socialize.

Measures to prevent infections must be further strengthened in elementary, junior high and high schools and elsewhere. The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry has issued a notice to boards of education and other related entities nationwide urging them to ensure classrooms and other facilities are thoroughly ventilated even when air conditioning is in use, and to pay attention to seating arrangements during school lunches, among other measures.

Some municipalities have used tape to create markers on the ground to indicate where students should stand when waiting to use restroom facilities, which tend to be crowded. These measures may also give children an opportunity to learn about infectious diseases. Each local government and school must devise its own methods.

Compared to spring last year when all schools were closed, the distribution of personal computers to children has been progressing. It is important to take steps to ensure children can continue learning when necessary, such as through online classes.

The central government intends to distribute to elementary and junior high schools and elsewhere test kits that can be used to quickly determine whether students are infected with the virus. Children who have a fever will be examined with the kits.

Britain has introduced a system in which elementary and junior high school students undergo tests for the coronavirus at home twice a week and register the results. The Japanese government must think hard about how to protect the health of children and ensure learning opportunities are available.

The education ministry said it would not ask all of the nation’s schools to close across the board. However, some local governments have already announced plans to extend summer holidays and implement staggered attendance based on grade or class. In some areas, restrictions on club activities and the postponement of school trips have been announced.

Infection situations vary from region to region. Each municipality needs to respond appropriately to its infection situation to avoid excessive restraint.

There might be children who feel there is nowhere for them to stay at home or in their communities when schools are closed. If the situation is prolonged, there also will surely be cases in which parents and guardians who are unable to work and experience financial difficulties.

The central and local governments should work closely together with companies to provide support for such children and their guardians.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Aug. 28, 2021.