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Concerns loom as schools set to reopen amid virus surge

Parents, teachers, students worry about full opening of schools as pandemic takes hold, vaccinations slow

Students go to school in downtown Seoul, where school started after summer vacation, on Tuesday. (Yonhap)
Students go to school in downtown Seoul, where school started after summer vacation, on Tuesday. (Yonhap)
As schools are set to start opening amid the latest surge in infections, health concerns emerge among unvaccinated students, parents and teachers.

The Ministry of Education plans to gradually increase in-person classes, but some concerned students and parents are demanding a full review of the policy in posts on the website of presidential Blue House.

A petition posted by one student Wednesday reads, “In my school -- although it is hard to generalize -- students’ wearing masks is not strictly controlled and not every teacher in the teachers office is wearing masks.”

“Is this a problem only for my school?” the student asked. “It is difficult for all schools to thoroughly control students’ wearing of masks. And especially during physical activities, the frequency of students’ contact is very high and there is no way to deal with it.”

A day earlier, another petitioner, who described herself as a housewife with two kids, asked for attending school to be made optional.

“Not only teachers, but my father, who is now in his 60s, has not received a second dose of vaccine. My mother, who is in her 50s did not get shots. My husband, who is in his 40s, and I, who am in my 30s, have not even booked yet.”

She said the school is not safe.

“Although there are only teachers and students in the school, students have their families, teachers have their families. No one knows whether they have inoculated or come in contact with confirmed patients.”

Early this week, the government said the vaccination interval among elementary and middle school teachers would increase from three weeks to five weeks. This is because the supply of Moderna vaccines in August decreased to less than half of expected 8.5 million doses.

The Korea Federation of Teachers’ Associations released a statement on Tuesday, saying, “As teachers receive shots after school opens (unlike the previous plan that they get shots before school begins), we will have to worry about missing classes and academic disruptions.”

Although concerns remain, there are still many parents who want to send their kids to school. They believe that long-term remote classes will spoil lifestyle of their children and that remote classes cannot supplement education in schools.

Kwon Min-young, 40, who has an 11-year old daughter, feels so guilty that her daughter has been neglected at home during the pandemic.

“As I and my husband both work, we are so desperate that schools fully open. We can’t wait blindly because no one knows when the pandemic will end.”

Quarantine experts also weighed on school’s reopening in the second semester, as the spread of coronavirus at schools is not large and the rate of vaccinations is rising.

“As vaccinations of high-risk groups were completed to a certain extent, mortality has declined,” said Chung Jae-hoon, a professor of preventive medicine at Gachon University.

“It seems difficult to see a significant decrease in the number of confirmed cases for the time being. However, as education deficits are severe, parents should be strongly prepared to send children to school and quarantine authorities should be thoroughly prepared.”

By Shin Ji-hye (shinjh@heraldcorp.com)
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