Spike in Coronavirus Cases Causes Hundreds of Schools in South Korea to Close After Reopening

South Korea began relaxing social distancing guidelines in May

South Korea schools
Students in South Korea return to school. Photo: YONHAP/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Although hundreds of schools began the process of reopening last month in South Korea, many have since closed down again due to a spike in coronavirus cases.

The country began to relax social distancing guidelines in early May and allowed a small number of schools to open on May 20. In a second phase, select grades returned to classrooms on Wednesday, May 27.

And while many schools did reopen then, that same day more than 60 new COVID-19 cases were confirmed at a distribution center in Bucheon, which is close to the western cities of Incheon and Seoul, according to the Yonhap News Agency. The following day, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed there had been 79 new cases of the virus, the highest daily increase in two months.

Authorities in Incheon suspended the reopening of 243 schools on Thursday, and all 251 schools in Bucheon were also ordered to close, with the exception of classes for high school seniors, the news agency reported.

More than 500 schools closed again on Friday, according to CNN.

South Korea schools
Students in South Korea return to school.

Some schools have not reopened at all. Across the country, 838 schools that were supposed to reopen on Wednesday chose to remain closed, the Korea Times reported, citing data from the Ministry of Education.

Ahead of the second phase of reopening, a number of students had also tested positive for the novel coronavirus, including a high school senior in Seoul, according to the outlet. Several nearby schools, including the one he attended — as well as the school attended by his little brother — were closed down.

A 6-year-old kindergarten student in Seoul also tested positive for COVID-19 earlier that week, and it is believed the child contracted the disease from his art teacher, who has also tested positive, according to the Korean Herald. A number of nearby schools went on to announce that they would be pushing back their reopening dates.

In new guidelines published on Thursday, the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education said that in the event of a confirmed case, kindergartens should shut down for two weeks, according to the Yonhap News Agency.

The precautionary measures taken by some schools before reopening included putting up plastic barriers, which would keep students separated from their fellow classmates, according to the Washington Post.

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Although health officials reported zero new confirmed domestic cases by the end of April, as restrictions began to lapse in May, there has been a wave of new cases.

Over 100 new cases connected to nightclubs and bars, which have since been ordered to close indefinitely, have been confirmed in Seoul, according to the Korean Herald.

As of Monday, there have been at least 11,503 confirmed coronavirus cases and 271 deaths in the country, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

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