South Korean students began returning to classes Wednesday as the country counted 32 new coronavirus cases.
It was the first time in nine days that the daily increase was above 30. South Korea relaxed much of its social distancing rules in early May, but then saw a spike in new infections linked to nightclubs in Seoul.
Hundreds of thousands of high school seniors entered their schools after having their temperatures checked and rubbing their hands with sanitizer – familiar measures amid the coronavirus pandemic. Students and teachers are required to wear masks, and some schools have installed plastic partitions at each student’s desk, according to the Education Ministry.
Only high school seniors returned on Wednesday. Lower-grade students are scheduled to return to school in phased steps by June 8.
In a reminder that getting back to normalcy won’t be easy, students in some schools near Seoul were asked to return home Wednesday morning after two students were found to have contracted the coronavirus. South Korean health authorities reported 32 new cases on Wednesday, the first time the daily jump has been above 30 in more than a week.
If any school has a new virus case, its students, teachers and other staff will immediately be asked to return home before authorities disinfect school facilities, Education Ministry officials said.
South Korea’s new school year was supposed to start in early March but was delayed several times due to worries about the spread of the coronavirus. About 5.4 million students in South Korea have subsequently been taking classes online.
At Seoul’s Kyungbock High School, Cho Hee-yeon, the education superintendent in the capital, used a digital ear thermometer to check students’ temperatures at the main gate as another official placed liquid sanitizer on the hands of those students. Signs that read "No outsiders are allowed to enter the school premises” had been set up.
"I am here to see students returning to school while praying that there won’t be any coronavirus patients among our students in 2,200 schools” in Seoul, Cho told reporters.
Students at 66 schools in Incheon, just west of Seoul, had to leave after two students at one of the schools tested positive for the virus Wednesday. The two students didn’t attend classes on Wednesday, but authorities decided to temporarily close all schools in their neighborhood, according to the Incheon Metropolitan City Office of Education.
In Anseong, just south of Seoul, authorities sent messages to all high school seniors in the city on Wednesday morning telling them to continue to stay home because health authorities hadn't finished compiling a list of places that a newly confirmed local patient had visited recently. Those schools were expected to reopen on Thursday, education officials said.
South Korea relaxed many of its social distancing rules in early May but then saw a small but sudden spike in new infections linked to nightclubs in Seoul’s Itaewon entertainment district. That latest outbreak had been on a downward trend until Tuesday.
The country has confirmed more than 11,000 coronavirus cases, including 263 deaths.