Increasing infections at schools raise concerns

Increasing infections at schools raise concerns

Students have lunch separated by clear partitions in the cafeteria of an elementary school in Gimhae, South Gyeongsang Province, Wednesday. Yonhap

By Bahk Eun-ji

Concerns are rising among students and parents as COVID-19 is spreading rapidly in schools, after elementary, middle and high schools resumed in-person classes in late August for the second semester of the year.

Some parents are calling for the expansion of online classes again, as only high school seniors have been vaccinated, but the education authorities say in-person lessons are necessary to overcome the many social problems that have emerged during the prolonged pandemic such as learning gaps between students or children failing to master social skills.

According to the Ministry of Education, Thursday, the average number of daily new infections among students from preschool to high school was 177.4 between Sept. 2 and 8.

The average daily figure had been around 160 since the middle of August; while a growing number of students have been under self-quarantine at home after coming into contact with confirmed cases.

As of Monday, 8,150 elementary, 5,204 middle and 7,252 high schoolchildren were under quarantine, which were triple, 4.5-fold and 4.9-fold increases from figures tallied Aug. 9

Parents are expressing anxiety over the safety of their children.

Ryu Ju-hyun, a mother of an elementary school fourth grader in Guri, Gyeonggi Province, said she wants the government to return to remote classes as she believes nothing is more important than children’s safety.

“These young students, including my son, have not received COVID-19 vaccinations yet, so even just one infection can lead to an outbreak at any time,” Ryu said.

“As far as I understand it, the government decided to resume in-person classes in order to bridge the education gap, but it is questionable whether education comes before our children’s health and safety.”

“I heard health and education authorities say children would be safer at school (than at other facilities), but that seems far from reality,” said Kim Seung-hyun, a mother of a middle school second grader in Nowon District, Seoul.

“It is difficult for all children to follow quarantine rules appropriately no matter how much teachers try. I don’t think young children will be able to follow the rules, such as wearing face masks all the time,” Kim said.

Despite such concerns, the education ministry has taken a firm stance that children need in-person classes for their academic and social development, even in regions where the highest social distancing level is implemented.

It also called for the need to expand vaccinations from high school seniors to students of other grades.

In this regard, the health authorities announced at the end of last month that the vaccination plan for the fourth quarter will include young people aged 12 to 17.

“The World Health Organization (WHO) and other major countries are checking the effectiveness and safety of vaccinations for those in the age group of 12 to 17,” Vice Education Minister Jung Jong-chul said in an online briefing Sept. 2.

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