School shutdowns double over the weekend, officials weigh tightened restrictions
The number more than doubled over the weekend from 849 schools that had shut down as of Aug. 21.
The Education Ministry said that 895 kindergartens, 540 elementary schools, 251 middle schools, 141 high schools and 17 specialty schools have shut down in 11 cities and provinces across the country amid the recent spike in Covid-19 cases.
Incheon’s Seo District has halted physical classes as of Monday, as is the case for the city of Gwangju.
In Gyeonggi, Unjeong and Gyohaji districts in Paju, Cheongpyeong-myeon in Gapyeong and western Pyeongtaek have also suspended physical classes through Friday. Chuncheon and Wonju in Gangwon, Cheongju in North Chungcheong and Boryeong in South Chungcheong are taking similar precautions.
Korean students kicked off the new school year with online lessons in April and all grades, including kindergarten, were brought back to in-person classes in a phased manner starting May 20.
This marks the first time so many schools were shut down since some 6 million Korean students returned to their campuses as of early June, with the recent spike in the country’s coronavirus cases stemming from church infections and an anti-government rally on Liberation Day.
As of Monday, there are a total of 283 student Covid-19 cases since the return to school, up by 70 over the weekend. Likewise, the number of faculty cases increased to 70, up by 22 since the weekend.
Many of the infected students were in the metropolitan area, with 104 in Seoul and 82 in Gyeonggi.
Education Minister Yoo Eun-hae said Monday in a meeting with superintendents from Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi that the government will seek all possible measures to minimize the risk of coronavirus transmissions from local communities to schools.
Korea has currently raised the social quarantine guidelines to Level 2 nationwide in a three-tier system as of Sunday, which recommends limiting physical classes. Schools will be forced to shut down and revert back to remote lessons if the guidelines are further raised to Level 3.
Education authorities are reviewing whether to raise the social distancing guidelines to Level 3 for schools in the metropolitan area as a preemptive measure, switching to remote lessons.
“The social distancing tier for the metropolitan area can be raised to Level 3 at any moment, so educations offices need to make necessary preparations ahead of time," Yoo said.
Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education Superintendent Cho Hee-yeon said, “The metropolitan area needs to review whether to revert to remote lessons following Level 3 guidelines through Sept. 11.”
BY SARAH KIM, NAMGUNG MIN [firstname.lastname@example.org]