Schools get back to normal, weekly testing going away
Schools are geared up for a return to normalcy after the pandemic, announcing plans to resume full in-person classes next month for the first time in over two years.
Education Minister Yoo Eun-hye unveiled post-Omicron measures for schools in a press briefing on Wednesday.
As Covid-19 infections continued to recede, the number of infected students in kindergarten, elementary, middle and high schools declined to a daily average of 14,984 in the second week of April from a peak of 62,284 in the third week of March.
Accordingly, the attendance rate has been increasing at schools nationwide. The rate of kindergarten to high school students present in school, which was 82.1 percent as of March 7, went up to 95.5 percent as of April 18, the education ministry said.
According to the education ministry, only 100 out of 20,156 schools nationwide were offering hybrid classes as of April 18, and only six schools were holding classes exclusively online. So most students were already back to school.
But out of caution, educational authorities are dividing the implementation of post-Omicron measures into three stages: a “preparatory period” that will last until the end of this month; a “transition period” until May 22; and a “settlement period” until the end of the spring semester.
During the preparatory stage, kindergartens, elementary, middle and high schools will maintain their virus preventive measures, such as 7-day quarantines of infected students and preemptive Covid-19 tests required once a week.
Under the transition period from May 1, all schools will kick off for a full recovery for normal school life.
All classes in kindergarten, elementary, middle and high schools will resume in-person, and online classes will only be allowed for specific educational purposes. Extracurricular activities stopped during the pandemic will resume. School trips can also be made after consultations with parents.
The use of preemptive Covid-19 tests ― currently being taken once a week with home test kits before coming to school ― will be up to district education offices and is likely to be abolished.
In case of a virus outbreak in a class, it will no longer be required for all classmates be tested. Schools will no longer conduct contact tracing, and only students with symptoms and high-risk students with underlying health conditions will be required to take a rapid antigen test.
Face mask regulations will be loosened. Aside from KF-80 or higher, surgical masks and anti-droplet masks approved by the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety will be allowed.
Under the settlement period from May 23, infected students are expected to be allowed to take exams in person, starting with final exams.
Guidelines were also being prepared for a safe return of students to university campuses.
From May 1, in-person classes will also be “strongly advised.” Universities will be able to decide the type of classes they hold, either online or offline, after discussions with students. Current guidelines require students to be spaced at least one seat apart or have partitions between them. Going forward, each university can decide on those measures.
Overnight events, such as freshman orientation, can be held.
Meanwhile, Interior Minister Jeon Hae-cheol said Wednesday the government will decide whether to lift the outdoor mask mandate early next month, explaining that “the importance of mask-wearing is still high.”
Health authorities had said the indoor mask mandate would be kept “for a considerable period of time.”
Restrictions on large-scale festivals involving more than 300 people were temporarily lifted Wednesday.
Jeon added the government will make a final decision in late May on whether to permanently downgrade Covid-19's infectious disease classification to Class 2, after a transition period for four weeks from April 25. During the transition period, the quarantine mandate will be maintained.
Korea’s daily Covid-19 infections remained in the 100,000s for two days in a row on Wednesday with 111,319 new cases. The cumulative caseload stands at 16,583,220.
The country added 166 more virus-related deaths, raising the death toll to 21,520.
BY SEO JI-EUN [firstname.lastname@example.org]