Schools across Japan will be closed from next week to prevent the spread of coronavirus, it has been announced by the country’s Prime Minister Shinzō Abe.
Abe has asked all elementary, middle and high schools to remain closed from Monday (March 2) until spring holidays begin in late March.
It is thought it will affect 13 million students.
The measure comes amid growing concern about the increase in the number of untraceable cases in northern Japan and elsewhere.
The nation now has more than 900 cases, including at least 700 from a cruise ship which has been quarantined in Yokohama since February 3.
Abe said the first weeks of March would be an "extremely critical period" for preventing transmission of coronavirus, given the official title of COVID-19 by the World Health Organization, whose director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has said the global outbreak had now reached a "decisive point" and had "pandemic potential".
"The Government attaches the top priority to the health and safety of children," Abe said.
The decision follows that of China to not reopen schools on the mainland after the Spring Festival holiday, instead asking close to 200 million students to follow classes online from their homes.
Hong Kong is also closing its schools until April.
Globally, there are now more than 83,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and the number of new cases outside of China is eclipsing new cases in the country where the outbreak originated.
The virus has had a significant impact on qualifiers for this year's Olympics in Tokyo and sparked suggestions the Games may be postponed or cancelled - claims which organisers and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have consistently played down.
Richard Pound, the IOC's most senior member, told the Associated Press this week they did not have to make a decision until late May.
Pound said Tokyo 2020 could be cancelled if the virus is not under control by that time.
In response to Pound's comments, Olympics Minister Seiko Hashimoto dismissed the concerns and reiterated the Games, scheduled to begin with the Opening Ceremony on July 24, would go ahead as planned.