The decision comes amid growing concern about the rise in the number of untraceable cases of the virus in northern Japan and elsewhere. Japan now has more than 910 cases, including 705 from a quarantined cruise ship. An eighth death from the virus was confirmed Thursday on the northern island of Hokkaido.
Abe’s announcement came hours after several local governments had announced their own decisions to suspend classes for shorter periods.
Officials in Hokkaido said they were closing all 1,600 elementary and middle schools. Hokkaido now has 54 confirmed cases, the largest in in the country outside the cruise ship.
Some local governments quickly said they will abide by the request, but others criticized the short notice and said it would affect working parents who need to find sitters for young school children.
“Society will fall apart because of the measures,” said Chiba Mayor Toshihito Kumagai, adding that he will come up with measures to support working parents during the school suspension.