(ATTN: ADDS details in paras 6-7)
SEOUL, Feb. 23 (Yonhap) -- South Korea said Sunday it will postpone the new school year, set to start next month, as part of efforts to tackle the new coronavirus after the number of patients spiked to more than 600.
"To prevent the spread of infection, and for the safety of students and school faculty, the education ministry will postpone the first day of the 2020 school year at kindergartens, elementary, middle and high schools across the country by a week," Education Minister Yoo Eun-hae said in a government press briefing.
The country raised its disease alert by one notch to the highest level earlier in the day in its latest heightened response to the confirmation of hundreds of additional COVID-19 cases over the weekend.
The government reported 169 new cases earlier in the day, bringing the total to 602.
Under the measure, the new school year will begin on March 9. The education minister said the ministry will closely monitor the ongoing outbreak to take additional measures as necessary and flexibly adjust the school calendar.
This marks the first time the school term has been postponed across the country.
Even when the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome broke out in 2015, the school term was adjusted in only certain regions.
To support parents who cannot look after their children during weekdays, the ministry plans to provide childcare programs at kindergartens and elementary schools. It also plans to consult with the labor and finance ministry to encourage companies to grant childcare holidays to employees.
Yoo stressed the importance of coordinated efforts, saying the ministry will closely monitor private education institutes and also asked parents to keep their children away from private institutes and "PC bangs," or internet cafes, for the next two weeks.
The minister also unveiled additional measures to support Chinese nationals enrolled in universities here. Around 70,000 students study in the country, with some 19,000 students expected to arrive here until late March.
Yoo said the ministry expects around 10,000 students to return this week, saying the ministry and schools will provide students with health monitoring and shuttle bus services from the airport.
The ministry recently advised students who have not booked their return ticket to take the semester off.
On Sunday, the ministry unveiled support measures for these students, such as easing school regulations so they could take more classes in one semester and allowing them to take online classes provided by other schools.
The government has already advised local universities to postpone the new school year by up to four weeks, with most schools taking part in the plan.
Ateez to drop new Japanese EP next week
Gov't to significantly increase international flights to meet travel demand
(2nd LD) BTS wins three Billboard Music Awards, marking 6th year to win an award
Crypto investor probed over allegedly visiting house of Terraform's CEO
(2nd LD) N. Korea still unresponsive to S. Korea's outreach for talks on COVID-19: official
S. Korea to send condolence delegation to UAE over death of president
(LEAD) N. Korea confirms first case of omicron variant of COVID-19: state media
Seoul's daily subway ridership hits pandemic-era high on eased restrictions
(5th LD) N.K. leader, wearing mask, chairs meeting on omicron outbreak
(URGENT) N. Korea says fever symptoms reported among more than 18,000 people Thursday alone amid COVID-19 outbreak
(LEAD) S. Korea looks into cryptocurrency market following TerraUSD, Luna crash
U.S. Forces Korea launches permanent Apache helicopter unit
S. Korea's new COVID-19 cases above 30,000 for 2nd day amid omicron slowdown
U.S. concerned about COVID outbreak in N. Korea, no delay in nuclear test expected: State Dept.
Yoon, PPP lawmakers travel to Gwangju en masse to commemorate 1980 democracy uprising