The city government of Osaka officially decided Wednesday to offer free school lunches to all of its public elementary and junior high school students from April to alleviate the financial burden on households caused by the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The plan, the first by a major Japanese city, will cover 165,000 students. The city estimates the program will save parents and guardians between 50,000 yen ($470) and 60,000 yen per child each year.
"It is obvious that the economy is being hit hard. We want to protect working people and their children from the financial burden by offering free meals from the next fiscal year" starting April 1, said Mayor Ichiro Matsui.
The city estimates the annual cost at 7.7 billion yen, with funding coming from its reserves. It plans to continue the program beyond the next fiscal year.
Osaka decided to close its city-run nurseries, elementary and junior high schools from Feb. 29 to March 24 to curb the spread of the pneumonia-causing virus, which has already caused more than 100 confirmed infections in Osaka Prefecture.
The city has seen several clusters of infections of the virus that was first detected in Wuhan, China.
Over 1,500 infections have been confirmed in Japan, of which 700 cases are from the Diamond Princess cruise ship that was quarantined near Tokyo.