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TOKYO — After weeks of criticism that Japan was bungling its reaction to the spread of the coronavirus, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took the drastic step on Thursday of asking all the country’s schools to close for about a month.
With the number of cases steadily rising and Japan suddenly confronting talk that the Tokyo Olympics may have to be canceled , Mr. Abe is eager to show that he is moving aggressively to control the virus.
The move to shut schools, which would make Japan the second country, after China, to suspend classes nationwide, appeared to be an abrupt reversal of the more cautious stance the administration had taken on the virus.
Japan, unlike neighboring South Korea and other countries, has not experienced a sharp increase in reported infections. It has had 210 cases, including four deaths. There have also been more than 700 cases and four deaths from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which spent two weeks quarantined while docked in Yokohama .
But global alarm — and attendant questions about the Olympics — has grown as the virus has spread more rapidly outside China. Mr. Abe’s actions began to reflect that concern on Wednesday, when he requested that large sports and cultural events be postponed or canceled in the coming weeks, a day after saying that such a move was unnecessary.
As he announced the school closings on Thursday, Mr. Abe said he was “putting a priority on children’s health and safety” and trying to pre-empt the risk of widespread […]