Education Minister Yoo Eun-hae speaks during a meeting held in Sejong on Wednesday. (Yonhap)
South Korea is readying 60 percent more testing rooms and 30 percent more personnel for the Dec. 3 nationwide college entrance exam, as the third wave of the coronavirus pandemic looms, the Education Ministry announced Wednesday.
“We now have upped our test administration system to accommodate up to 120 test-takers infected with COVID-19 and up to 3,800 potential patients under quarantine,” Education Minister Yoo Eun-hae said, before presiding over a meeting with local education chiefs.
The minister said the number of those quarantined could rise in the run-up to the test, urging authorities to be fully prepared.
The country added 313 more coronavirus cases in 24 hours ending at midnight Tuesday, the highest daily increase since Aug. 29. Of them, 15 are students. A total of 87 schools have been closed due to the discovery of virus cases among staff or students.
The country will enter a special virus control period for two weeks from Thursday until Dec. 3, when some 493,433 college hopefuls sit the eight-hour marathon exam, better known as Suneung here.
“Greater danger could come if we do not take the right action at this point,” Yoo said. “Considering that the hike in social distancing shows its effect around a week or two later and there’s just two weeks left before Suneung, the Education Ministry and local education offices are getting prepared for all possibilities,” she added.
The capital Seoul, the surrounding Gyeonggi Province and other parts of the country are escalating their social distancing level from the current Level 1 to 1.5 from Thursday. Incheon will elevate its own social distancing to level 1.5 next Monday.
A week leading up to the exam, the ministry will order all high school classes to move online and minimize transmission risks among students. Each testing room will house up to 24 people, down from the usual 28, to ensure distancing among test takers, with plastic dividers installed on each desk.
Students confirmed to have the virus can take the Suneung in designated hospitals or government institutes. They will have to be admitted to the facilities where the test will be conducted three weeks prior to the exam.
The ministry has prepared 754 testing rooms at 113 different locations to allow as many as 3,800 quarantined students to take the exam.
A total of 33,000 testing centers have been prepared for regular test-takers, up 58 percent from 21,000 centers prepared for last year’s exam. Around 120,000 personnel will be dispatched to those sites to manage the test.
During the special virus control period starting Thursday, Yoo asked multi-use facilities to strengthen virus control measures in care of students while recommending cram schools and private institutes refrain from in-person classes for a week ahead of the Suneung date.
Yoo said the ministry would unveil the names and additional details of cram schools that report new COVID-19 cases during the special period. She asked everyone to strictly follow virus control measures for the two weeks in order for Korea to successfully execute the life-defining Suneung amid the pandemic.
“I ask people to refrain from cheering in groups in front of testing centers on the day of Suneung and just cheer from their hearts,” Yoo said. “Creating a safe testing environment is only possible if each of us helps out and reduces the spread of the virus in our community.”
By Ko Jun-tae (firstname.lastname@example.org