On Thursday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made an announcement urging elementary, middle and high schools to shut down until late March, which is near the end of the Japanese school year, the Associated Press reported.
According to the outlet, the move — which hopes to squash the further spread of the coronavirus — will affect about 34,847 schools across the country, barring some 12.8 million students from classrooms.
“This is to prioritize the health and safety of the children and take precautions to avoid the risk of possible large-scale infections for many children and teachers who gather and spend hours together every day,” said Abe, per the AP.
According to The New York Times, there have been about 186 cases of coronavirus reported in Japan, with a total of four deaths. A cruise ship docked in Yokohama, Japan, has also accounted for over 700 cases and four deaths.
Tokyo is set to host the 2020 Olympics later this summer.
In the United States, health officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Americans on Tuesday to prepare for coronavirus to spread in America. In a press briefing, the CDC said an outbreak in the U.S. is imminent.
“It’s not so much of a question of if this will happen in this country anymore but a question of when this will happen,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the CDC.
Informing citizens that they “need to prepare for a significant disruption” to their lives and plan for possible school closures, Messonnier also urged people to ask about working from home and inquiring about telemedicine options.
“We are asking the American public to prepare in the expectation that this could be bad,” she said.
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“The spread in other countries has raised our level of concern and raised our level of expectation that we are going to have community spread here,” Messonnier said. “We’re asking folks in every sector as well as people within their families to start planning for this, because as we’ve seen from the recent countries that have had community spread, when it’s hit in those countries it has moved quite rapidly so we want to make sure that the American public is prepared.”
Messonnier added that the CDC is unsure whether the U.S. will experience as dramatic of a spread as China, Italy and South Korea.
“What we still don’t know is what that will look like. We can have community spread in the United States and have it be relatively mild and we can have community spread in the U.S. and have it be very severe,” she said, “so that is what we don’t completely know yet, and we of course don’t completely know when it’s going to happen.”