Last May, South Korea started reopening schools despite public health interests to shut down schools with the spike in the number of confirmed COVID cases. The decision was made leaning to the hyper-competitive educational culture prevalent in South Korea. But after consecutive triple digit resurgence of COVID cases last August, the government decided to close schools down.
South Korea has been praised by international communities and was quoted by healthcare experts as a model country with its robust and aggressive early response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, they stood out as the country who flattened the curve without the need for lockdowns, mandatory closing of businesses, and strict stay-at-home policy which are measures that have been adopted by other high-income countries. As of writing, confirmed cases total to only 22,504 as compared to other First World countries such as the US which is now approaching the 7 million mark. It also has recorded 19,310 recoveries and a death toll of 367 which is considerably and significantly lower than most countries.
Though a global health crisis is hardly any leader would come in duly prepared, South Korea proved that it is manageable. South Korea’s health care system is hospital based care wherein 12.3 hospital beds are allotted for every 1000 individuals. Although many criticized this system as over-indexed, this helped South Korea to “champion” over the pandemic as it provided adequate space to accommodate COVID-19 cases without sacrificing non-COVID patients which have been a bump in many health care systems around the world. The success of South Korea in battling the pandemic is also owed to the willingness of the people to wear masks, cooperate with contact tracers, and more importantly adhere to the guidelines set by the government.
But even with a robust and aggressive system in place, South Korea still experienced bumps as they were forced to close down schools again last August as they recorded triple digit resurgences in consecutive days. Education Minister Yoo Eun Hae announced the decision last August 25 after 193 students and teachers tested positive with coronavirus in a viral surge. South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recorded 280 fresh cases that day bringing a total of 3,175 cases in just 12 days. This brought the total caseload of South Korea to 17,945 with 310 fatalities.
Before this jump, classes already re-opened but were forced to stop as the day after opening, 79 cases were recorded linked to a warehouse in Bucheon owned by the largest e-commerce firm Coupang. Investigations done have shown that the company did not adhere to the strict health and safety measures implemented by the government.
The viral surge has forced schools to go back to remote learning in order to prevent any further transmissions that could undermine the epidemiological gains of the country. Yoo said that kindergarten, elementary, middle school, and high school students will proceed to online classes until September 11 while high school seniors will still physically go to school to continue with their preparation for the crucial December National College Examinations.
South Korea has been known for its hyper-competitive educational culture which has been a subject of one of its famous K-drama, Sky Castle. Teenagers are thrown into this environment because graduating from the likes of Seoul National University and other elite universities set up a path to a good career.
This decision is largely influenced by the fact that the government is still gearing to hold an undisrupted National College Examinations by December 3.
In a news conference, Yoo said, “The priority is to quickly stem the spread of transmissions and stabilize the situation, if only to hold the Dec. 3 national college entrance exam as planned without disruption.”
The viral surge was linked to a Church rally last August 15 where 200 infections were recorded as they protested against the banning of on-site worship. This was further complicated by the refusal of some members and protesters to get tested.
Kwon Jun Wook, director of South Korea’s National Health Institute addressed this issue on a virus briefing. “I plead to you once once again: if we contact you and ask you to get tested, please get tested,” he said. “COVID-19 can’t distinguish between political stances. It doesn’t know the different kinds of religions that exist. It doesn’t have a concept of ideology or beliefs. There’s no way a virus has such things.”
A month before the viral surge, 915 infections were also linked to an anti-government Church rally wherein they believe that the government is shutting down the Church by manipulating the statistics.
As of now, the government has imposed a Level 2.5 social distancing guidelines to prevent chances of developing a second wave of cases. Nightclubs and karaoke rooms are shut down for the meantime, cafes and bakeries to operate on reduced hours with takeout and delivery options only, and restaurants will ban on-site dining after 9pm.