Osaka plans to offer free lunches for all students at city government-run elementary and junior high schools from April to help ease the financial strain on households caused by the spread of the coronavirus, Mayor Ichiro Matsui said Tuesday.

It would be the first such measure by a major Japanese city, although it is not known whether schools -- which have been closed since March 2 -- will reopen after the spring break through early April.

"We would like to create a situation that allows child-rearing generations shouldering economic burdens to feel at ease" with the free school lunch program, Matsui said.

The program would save parents between 50,000 yen ($470) and 60,000 yen per child each year, he said.

The city estimates the annual cost of covering all 165,000 students at 7.7 billion yen, with funding for fiscal 2020 starting April coming from a reserve fund.

The city plans to continue the program beyond the next fiscal year and discuss details such as how to secure funding for fiscal 2021 and beyond.

The city had been studying ways to offer free public school meals in the past but could not determine how to fund them.

Schools have closed across Japan to fight the China-originated, pneumonia-causing virus that has infected more than 1,500 people in Japan, of which 700 cases are from the Diamond Princess cruise ship that was quarantined near Tokyo.

More than 100 infections have been confirmed in Osaka Prefecture alone.

"If the economic impact (of the coronavirus) becomes more serious, wages could fall. It is a good policy to support child-rearing families, and other municipalities may follow suit," said Takuya Hoshino, economist at Dai-ichi Life Research Institute.

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