Almost 300 million students worldwide faced weeks at home on Thursday with Italy the latest country to shut schools over the deadly new coronavirus.
More than 95,000 people have been infected and over 3,200 have died worldwide from the virus, which has now reached more than 80 countries and territories.
The vast majority of global deaths and infections are in China, where the virus first emerged late last year, prompting the country to quarantine entire cities, temporarily shut factories and close schools indefinitely.
As the virus spread, other countries have also implemented extraordinary measures, with UNESCO saying Wednesday that 13 countries have closed schools, affecting 290.5 million children, while nine others have implemented localized closures.
While temporary school closures during crises are not new, UNESCO chief Audrey Azoulay said, “the global scale and speed of the current educational disruption is unparalleled and, if prolonged, could threaten the right to education.”
Italy on Wednesday ordered schools and universities shuttered until March 15, ramping up its response as the national death toll rose to 107, the deadliest outbreak outside China.
South Korea, the country with the largest number of cases outside China with nearly 6,000, has postponed the start of the current term until March 23.
In Japan, nearly all schools are closed after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for classes to be canceled through March and spring break, slated for late March through early April.
Some 120 schools closed in France this week in areas with the largest number of infections.