|Students keep a safe distance from one another in the playground of Junghwa Girls' High School in Daegu, Wednesday, listening to precautions for the College Scholastic Ability Test scheduled to take place Thursday. / Yonhap|
By Jun Ji-hye
More than 490,000 high school seniors and other applicants are set to take the state college entrance exam Thursday amid persistent concerns over the recent spike in the number of COVID-19 infections nationwide.
The health authorities said Wednesday that they are taking extra precautions to ensure all of them take the College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT) safely, and to prevent test sites from becoming another hotbed of infection.
The annual CSAT is the largest educational event of the year, with hundreds of thousands of students sitting for the exam simultaneously across the country.
This year's test was originally slated for Nov. 19, but was postponed by two weeks amid the pandemic.
According to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA), the country added 511 infections for Tuesday, raising the total caseload to 35,163. The new daily virus case numbers have bounced back to over 500 after the daily tally stayed in the 400 range for three days.
Of the 511 new cases, 493 were locally transmitted, while 18 were from overseas arrivals.
The authorities said the country is battling a third wave of infections caused by continued sporadic infection clusters traced to schools, private educational institutes, bars, hospitals, religious facilities and social gatherings across the country.
"The Ministry of Education, education offices and schools are required to make every preparation to help students take the exam safely and cope with any unexpected situations," Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said during a government meeting on COVID-19 responses.
This year's CSAT will be different from previous ones as the authorities have categorized the test takers into three groups: general students, those under self-isolation requirements and those confirmed to have COVID-19.
General students should undergo a temperature check before entering test sites. Those with a temperature over 37.5 degrees Celsius will be required to take the exam in a separate area set up at the test sites.
Those under self-isolation requirements must take the test at designated places separate from general test sites, while COVID-19 patients are allowed to take the exam at hospitals.
All test takers are required to wear face masks.
Second Vice Health Minister Kang Do-tae asked students with symptoms associated with COVID-19 to undergo virus testing, even a day before the CSAT, to prevent any potential mass outbreaks at test sites.
"Even if a test taker is confirmed to have the virus, they will be given a chance to take the test," he said during a media briefing.
To ensure students arrive at test venues on time for the exam that begins at 8:40 a.m., many public offices will have staff start work at 10 a.m., an hour later than usual. Operation hours for banks will be delayed by one hour, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and those for stock markets, from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
The Seoul Metropolitan Government will increase the frequency of subway and bus services on the morning of the examination day to help test takers arrive on time.
Other local governments have taken similar measures in preparation for the state-run exam.