|A teacher explains anti-COVID-19 procedures to students in a high school in Seoul, Wednesday, when schools across the nation reopened for high school seniors despite lingering COVID-19 fears. / Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul|
By Jun Ji-hye
Schools finally reopened for about 450,000 high school seniors nationwide Wednesday, 79 days after they were shut down due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
While the move is putting the government's quarantine measures to the test, concern and confusion remain ― two education offices sent some students home, citing concerns over potential outbreaks following the confirmation of new cases in their regions.
The education authorities decided to forge ahead as "a further delay could affect the university entrance or employment plans of the high school seniors," at a time when the reopening had already been delayed several times due to the pandemic.
High school seniors went through temperature checks before attending classes, while their desks were spaced out and fitted with plastic dividers, in accordance with the Ministry of Education's quarantine and isolation protocol. Distancing measures were also implemented in cafeterias.
Those in other grades will return to school gradually over the following weeks up to June 8.
As part of precautions, the Incheon Metropolitan City Office of Education told seniors at 66 high schools in five districts of the city to go home after two students were confirmed earlier in the day to have tested positive for COVID-19.
Seniors at schools in the remaining five districts were allowed to attend classes as planned.
"Some patients were found to have visited crowded facilities and their movements have not been fully identified," said Lee Sang-hun, a spokesman for Incheon's education office. "There is a great possibility that other students visited the same facilities."
The education office in Gyeonggi Province also stopped seniors at nine high schools in Anseong City from attending, citing concerns over the spread of the virus after a male resident in his 20s tested positive the night before.
The office said an investigation to discover his movements is ongoing.
The education ministry said it is operating emergency management and will take prompt action, including running online classes again, if a further outbreak emerges.
The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 32 new infections Tuesday, raising the nation's total to 11,110.
The figure was the highest in nine days following a rise in Itaewon nightclub-linked cases and infections of nurses at a major Seoul hospital. The death toll remained unchanged at 263.
The nightclub-linked cases began after a Korean man, 29, tested positive for the virus on May 6 after visiting five nightclubs and bars in Itaewon at the beginning of the month.
Four nurses working at Samsung Medical Center tested positive, sparking concerns about another infection cluster.