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(LEAD) Cram school infections up worries ahead of school reopening

All News 16:38 June 01, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS details in paras 12, 15-16)

SEOUL, June 1 (Yonhap) -- A rise in infections linked to cram schools in South Korea's capital has raised alarm over school reopening, with more students set to return to classrooms later this month.

Following months of closure, South Korea began to resume in-person classes in May as new coronavirus cases in the country appeared to be slowing.

Under a plan involving four rounds of reopening, students enrolled in grades two and three of high schools, grade three of middle schools, and grades one and two of elementary schools have returned to classrooms.

In the remaining two phases scheduled for this week and next week, students in grade one of high schools, grades one and two of middle schools, and grades three to six of elementary schools will begin in-person classes.

A health worker sprays disinfectant at a cram school classroom in the western Seoul ward of Yangcheon on June 1, 2020. (Yonhap)

The plan, however, is facing challenges, as a recent rise in infections at private education institutes are fanning fears over possible transmission at schools.

A cram school in the western Seoul neighborhood of Yeouido has reported infections, including a tutor, two students and a mother of one of the students.

In another case, a family member of a high school student enrolled at several cram schools in the western Seoul neighborhood of Mokdong has tested positive, raising alarm over possible transmission among students. The high school student has tested negative.

Similar cases have been reported across the capital, including one case where a kindergartner contracted the virus from an art tutor at a cram school.

Schools in affected areas have rescheduled their reopening to prevent bigger repercussions. As of 10 a.m., there were 607 schools nationwide, or 2.9 percent of all kindergartens, elementary, middle and high schools, that have adjusted their reopening, according to the education ministry.

Most of the schools were in Seoul and the surrounding area, including 251 in Bucheon, west of Seoul, where an infection cluster broke out at a logistics center run by online retailer Coupang.

There were also 153 schools in the Incheon ward of Bupyeong, as well as 102 in Seoul.

Meanwhile, around 34,870 students and 2,962 school staff have been tested for the virus since schools reopened on May 20. Of the total, five students and two staff members have tested positive.

This photo, from May 31, 2020, shows a person standing in front of a building of cram schools in the western Seoul ward of Yangcheon. (Yonhap)

The education ministry said it plans to ramp up inspection of private institutes over their quarantine measures.

Officials have advised cram schools to strictly follow the guidelines, warning that those who breach the rules could be fined and face punishment if infections occur.

An industry organization, however, voiced concerns over excessively regulating the industry based on cases identified in a fraction of cram schools.

"A majority of cram schools across the country are going through difficulties stemming from extended closures since February, with some even considering closing their business," the association of cram schools said in a statement, stressing that most institutes have been strictly following quarantine guidelines.

South Korea on Monday reported 35 new virus cases, raising the country's COVID-19 caseload to 11,503.

Of the 35 cases, 30 were local infections reported in Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi Province. The remaining were imported cases.


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