|Students at an elementary school in Dongnae District of Busan head to class, Sept. 6. Yonhap|
By Lee Hyo-jin
All kindergartens and schools across the country will return to full-scale in-person classes from Monday, despite the continuous surge in daily COVID-19 infections and the number of critically ill patients.
While the government has eased social distancing regulations from Nov. 1 under the first step of its three-phase plan on "returning to normalcy," full resumption of students' in-person attendance has been pushed back until after the national college entrance exam, which took place on Thursday.
Although students in regions outside the Seoul metropolitan region returned to their classrooms from September, the full resumption of in-person classes in the capital region was postponed due to the unrelenting number of infections in the area.
According to the Ministry of Education, 97 percent of schools in the greater Seoul area will be holding in-person classes from Monday. Other face-to-face activities, such as club meetings and field trips, will be expanded gradually depending on the virus situation.
Under newly-devised quarantine guidelines for schools, students can attend classes even if one of their family members tests positive, under the condition that the student has been fully vaccinated or submits a negative PCR test result and does not display coronavirus-like symptoms.
The education ministry said that it will increase quarantine-related manpower and budgets in order to establish a safe education environment.
However, a recent surge in infections among children, many of whom are yet to be immunized or ineligible for the vaccine, has raised concerns over possible group infections at schools.
|A student at a high school in Seoul has her temperature checked at the main entrance, Aug.17. Korea Times photo by Lee Han-ho|
A total of 2,312 students tested positive between Nov. 12 and 17, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA), meaning that an average of 330 students were infected per day, up from 204 between Oct. 14 and 20.
The full vaccination rate among children aged 12 to 17 stood at 13.4 percent as of Saturday.
A mother of a 12-year-old daughter living in Mapo district of Seoul said, "Infections have occurred at my daughter's school just two days ahead of the full resumption of in-person classes. I'm worried over further infections. And it seems risky even if it occurs in another classroom of another grade, as the students share many facilities such as the cafeteria and bathrooms."
But some parents view the full resumption of in-person classes as a timely decision considering the learning loss.
"My two children, who are both in the lower grades of elementary school, find it very difficult to keep up with online classes as they easily get bored sitting in front of the computer. It's about time the schools return to normalcy," wrote a member of an online community for mothers on Naver.
But the reopening of schools may face setbacks if the public health authorities initiate a contingency plan, or an emergency brake, on the country's "Living with COVID-19" strategy, depending on the virus situation.
"In that case, we will discuss with regional education offices on how to carry on with in-person classes," Education Minister Yoo Eun-hae said during an interview on local radio, Friday.
Regarding whether the vaccine pass system, which is currently applied to adults upon entering multiuse facilities, would be expanded to children, Yoo said, "Various ways on how to introduce the system for people under the age of 18 are under discussion," adding that the government will make a final decision later this week.