Coronavirus fears forces schools to shut in Japan

Schools in Japan have shut down amid growing fears about the spread of coronavirus.

Prime minister Shinzo Abe announced last week that the closure - thought to affect around 13 million students - will continue until the school year ends in late March.

The announcement has meant families and working mothers have been forced to bring their young children into work with them.

Keiko Kobayashi and Sachiko Aoki, who work at a services company in Tokyo, brought their young children to work as their workplace remained open.

The two youngsters were pictured colouring in and playing together while their mothers tried to work.

Keiko Kobayashi, left, and Sachiko Aoki, both employees of a staffing services company Pasona Inc. work as their children entertain themselves behind at the company's headquarters. Credit: AP

"I was shocked by the news of the school closures, and thought, what should I do?" said Kobayashi, a senior manager at a multinational staffing service provider. “There was no explanation of how this is going to work."

In a country where nannies and babysitters are uncommon and mothers are still expected to be responsible for childcare, the measure is forcing many employed mothers to limit their working hours.

The situation is even harder for single parents and those with children who have disabilities.

Kobayashi said she is still exploring various options, including sending her son to a public daycare center for part of the day, or trying to work from home more often.

Keiko Kobayashi, left, at her desk as the two children play behind her. Credit: AP

She said: "But if I work from home, my son has TV and a lot of undesirable temptations when I'm not watching him.

"Creating an environment where he can concentrate on his study will be a challenge."

Abe excluded daycare centers and after-school clubs from the school closures to help parents with preschoolers or others who cannot finish work early enough, triggering questions about the effectiveness of the shutdowns.

Critics also note that children appear to be far less likely to test positive for the virus, and say the government should focus instead on the elderly and infirm who account for most of the deaths.

According to the World Health Organization, of more than 44,000 patients in China with confirmed infections, only 2.1 per cent were below the age of 20.

The virus outbreak in Japan could put the Tokyo Olympics in jeopardy. Credit: AP

It comes as Boris Johnson outlined the UK government's plan to deal with an increased outbreak.

The "coronavirus action plan", published this morning, reveals several emergency measures could be enacted if the virus becomes a "severe prolonged pandemic".

"In a stretching scenario", the 27-page document says, "it is possible that up to one fifth of employees may be absent from work during peak weeks".

In the event of the "outbreak worsening" pressures on society and services may become "significant and clearly noticeable".

In a press conference Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it is "highly likely" the UK will see a growing number of coronavirus cases, but stressed that "for the vast majority of people in this country we should be going about our business as usual".