Schools to reopen as Covid-19 cases continue to decrease

Lee Han-soo  Published 2020.05.19  11:38  Updated 2020.05.20 12:59


- President Moon stresses 'freedom for all' in WHO address

Korea reported 13 new Covid-19 cases on Tuesday, maintaining the daily tally below 20 for fourth consecutive days, as the new cluster infections from Itaewon, the multicultural nightlife district in the capital city, have subdued.

The 13 new Covid-19 cases brought the total to 11,078, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. Itaewon-related infections have reached 174 in total, including 97 in Seoul, as of 6 p.m. on Monday. No new death case was reported, keeping the death toll at 263.

Medical institutions discharged an additional 21 recovered people, increasing the total of cured patients to 9,938. So far, the nation tested 765,574 people for Covid-19.

With the virus subsiding, the country is preparing to reopen its schools with high school seniors returning to school on Wednesday. At the same time, younger students will follow gradually until June 8. The government has been postponing the start of the new semester and has been offering online classes since last month. Considering that schools originally started their new semester on March 2, this year's semester is starting 79 days later than usual.

However, concerns remain regarding the opening of school.

More than 230,000 people have participated in the Cheong Wa Dae petition post to delay the opening of school as of Tuesday, as classrooms, where dozens of students have to stay for several hours in an enclosed space, are inevitably vulnerable to Covid-19 transmission.

"To minimize the possibility of infection, we request all schools to exercise greater caution about wearing masks, ventilating frequently and maintaining distance," the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education Superintendent Cho Hee-yeon said, during a news conference. "If the coronavirus crisis worsens again, schools should return to remote learning."

Cho added the education ministry should also leave open the possibility of further delaying the national college entrance examination. The government had previously delayed the test, initially scheduled for Nov. 19, by two weeks to Dec. 3.

The Seoul education office also issued a set of recommendations on specific measures for distancing and sanitation during the briefing. It suggested schools switch between classroom and distance teaching for all levels of students, except high school seniors, while elementary students will be allowed homeschooling for up to 34 days after the start of the semester.

The guidelines also require schools to take the temperatures of all students and teachers twice a day. If any coronavirus case occurs, the school will close, and classes will be held online.

To ensure the students' safety, the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education has installed thermal imaging cameras in all 1,366 elementary, middle and high schools in the city. It will also distribute five facial masks per student and three per school staff member.

At a daily task force meeting, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun reaffirmed the government's stance on reopening the school year.

"If the government, schools, and families work together, it will be possible to attend school safely," Chung said. "With high school seniors attending school from Wednesday, we know that there are still some concerns about their safety. However, the current regional infection situation is at a level that we can handle."

Chung added that education officials should implement quarantine without delay and respond promptly to suspected patients or confirmed patients.

Meanwhile, President Moon Jae-in suggested the need to spread solidarity and cooperation around the globe as nations struggle to stem the coronavirus pandemic during a special speech for the World Health Assembly's (WHA) video session on Monday.

"The Korean people displayed the utmost civic virtues to practice the spirit of 'freedom for all' and voluntarily participated in quarantine efforts," Moon said. "This was what enabled the three main principles of openness, transparency, and democracy to flourish."

The government also supported the people's efforts with swift, widespread testing, and creative approaches, he added.

However, Moon stressed that the nation has not yet achieved complete victory over this virus.

"We have transitioned from social distancing to distancing in daily life and are working to balance our daily lives with ongoing quarantine efforts, and yet we still see instances of sporadic cluster infections," Moon said. "Moreover, the ongoing global pandemic still poses grave threats, and without a viable treatment option or a vaccine, a new wave of infections could break out at any time."

However, one thing is clear. Sharing information and cooperating demonstrate a power that no virus will ever have -- a power that only humans possess, Moon added.

During the meeting, Moon also proposed three efforts to overcome the crisis better and prepare for any future outbreaks.

"First, we must expand our humanitarian assistance for countries with vulnerable health care systems, and share our quarantine experiences," Moon said. "Until the day everyone is free from COVID-19, we must work together and leave no one behind."

As part of the effort, the Republic of Korea is planning to provide humanitarian assistance worth $100 million.

Moon also stressed that the global community must cooperate to develop vaccines and treatments for Covid-19.

"Such vaccines and treatments are public goods that must be distributed equitably to the whole world," Moon said. "The Republic of Korea fully supports the efforts of the WHO to develop vaccines and treatments."

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