(LEAD) All schools in greater Seoul area go online amid virus surge
(ATTN: UPDATES with latest figures in paras 3, 10-11; ADDS photos)
By Woo Jae-yeon
SEOUL, Aug. 26 (Yonhap) -- Schools in Seoul and its surrounding areas returned to remote classes Wednesday to protect students and slow down the spread of the virus, as infections surge throughout the nation.
The Ministry of Education ordered all 7,826 kindergartens, elementary, middle and high schools in the metropolitan area -- Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi Province -- on Tuesday to hold online classes only, until Sept. 11, to tame the highly infectious coronavirus.
In accordance with the new measure, 6,840 schools nationwide, except for those still on summer vacations, canceled in-person classes and resumed remote learning on Wednesday.
High school seniors are not subject to the policy in order to prepare for the College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT), the yearly national university entrance exam slated for Dec. 3, in which some 480,000 students are expected to participate.
The measure also does not apply to the rest of the country, where schools continue to offer a mix of in-person and remote classes with attendance capped at one-third in elementary and middle schools, and two-thirds in high schools.
Switching to online-only instruction is part of the most draconian anti-virus regulations, which the country has yet to enforce. But the ministry preemptively put the measure in place as COVID-19 is spreading at an alarming rate, particularly in the metropolitan region.
The precautionary move is a response to what health authorities described as the biggest crisis yet since the pandemic began early this year.
The country, once seen as having successfully controlled the virus, has reported infection cases in the triple digits since mid-August. The rapid spread has worried the ministry, which believed in-person learning at school was possible even during the pandemic if thorough anti-virus measures were enforced.
Amid a spike in new infections, a record number of 2,100 schools halted in-person classes Tuesday, breaking the previous record of 1,845 on Monday. Some schools shut down as a preemptive measure.
Of the total, 40 percent were located in the greater Seoul area, with 157 in Seoul, 524 in Gyeonggi Province and 167 in Incheon. Over the past two weeks, 175 students and 52 teachers and faculty members have tested positive for the virus in the area.
The country carefully instituted a phased reopening of schools, starting May 20, amid a slowdown in new cases. Since then, 320 students and 81 faculty members and teachers have tested positive for the virus. The numbers rose by 13 and seven, respectively, from a day ago.
On Saturday, the government expanded the Level Two guidelines of the three-tier system around the country, as COVID-19 cases were confirmed in all of the country's 17 major cities and provinces, a grim sign that the country might have entered a national epidemic. Previously, it had been imposed in the greater Seoul area.
When Level Three is enforced, all schools nationwide are required to switch to remote learning.
The ministry said it will decide whether to further extend the measure after closely monitoring the spread of the virus until Sept. 11.
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