Photo/Illutration Windows remain open and multiple fans are turned on while students study on the first day of the school after a shortened summer break at Yokose Elementary School in Kamisu, Ibaraki Prefecture, on Aug. 17. (Yosuke Fukudome)

Two weeks earlier than usual and in the middle of a heat wave, many students returned to the classroom on Aug. 17 as the novel coronavirus pandemic forced them to cut their summer break short.

Many schools across the country resumed classes early to make up for the nationwide school closures in spring because of the pandemic.

Students in elementary and junior high schools in Yokohama usually enjoy a summer break lasting for more than a month. But this year, the city has shortened it to about two weeks.

At Ushioda Elementary School in Yokohama’s Tsurumi Ward, children arrived at the campus wearing masks in the morning. They were instructed to wash their hands before entering their classrooms.

It was a boiling hot day, forcing teachers to turn on air conditioners and fans in the classroom. At the same time, they had to keep their windows open to ensure their classrooms were well ventilated to lower the infection risk.

“We are worried about children suffering heatstroke because they are wearing masks,” said Yuki Oshima, 27, a teacher.

Oshima said the teachers will make sure their students drink water often, wash their hands and gargle when they move to a different classroom.

Naoya Hirasawa, 12, said, he did not enjoy the shortened summer vacation because he rarely went out other than going to a cram school.

“I wanted to go to a pool but I couldn’t because I was afraid of the coronavirus,” he said.

Elementary and junior high schools in Nagoya also cut their summer breaks by two weeks.

Chihana Ando, 11, a sixth-grader at Noda Elementary School in Nagoya’s Nakagawa Ward, said she could not go camping or on a stay-over trip because of the pandemic.

“I was so bored that I’m happy that the summer break is over and we are back in school,” she said that day.

In class, teachers donned face shields and children wore masks.

Mayumi Kawade, the school principal, was concerned with students contracting heat-related illnesses.

In her opening-day speech via video conferencing, she told students that the temperature on the school grounds had already reached a dangerous level. She then urged students to take off their masks when they can to avoid heatstroke and maintain a safe distance from one another.

(This article was written by Hiroyuki Takei and Yuta Hanano.)