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South Korea: A COIVD-19 Resurgence

Chloe Jung
Grade 11
While some countries implemented extreme lockdown measures to settle the torrent of patients roaring into their hospitals, South Korean President Moon Jae-in did the contrary. He did not halt the day-to-day lives of his citizens nor impose travel restrictions. This risky decision allowed Koreans to move on as per usual. Yet, the streets of Seoul were silenced with fear and panic, followed by a mask purchasing frenzy and a boom of the Dalgona Coffee. Over time, citizens familiarized themselves with masks, hand sanitizers, and social distancing, and became accustomed to their new “normal”. With the reduction of infections, Korea was eventually recognized as a global model of an effective COVID-19 response.

However, the arrival of the warm and sunny weather during such gloomy times has encouraged people to step out of their homes more often. This loosened sense of panic has caused the number of confirmed cases, which has hitherto been stabilizing, to skyrocket once again. A particularly problematic case is the outbreak originating from a nightclub in Itaewon, a district in Seoul known for its cultural diversity and colorful lights. On May 7th, the government discovered a confirmed case linked to the nightclub and found 219 more. The socially irresponsible decision of the 5,500 individuals involved with the nightclub has formed a cloud of apprehension.

Nevertheless, school for twelfth graders began on May 20th after an 80-day delay. Unlike North American schools that begin in September, Korean schools typically begin in the first week of March. Park Baek-bum, the Minister of Education, decided that, because it is difficult to predict the prospect of a second wave in the fall, school should begin soon rather than postponing indefinitely.

To ensure the safety of the students, teachers, and staff, everyone must report their physical conditions digitally every morning, wear a mask at all times, get their temperature tested two times a day, and be sent to a screening clinic for testing immediately if they show symptoms. In classrooms, desks are separated in rows and the floors are covered with stickers in two-meter increments that remind students to maintain a safe distance from their peers. During lunch, students are given designated seats with barricades.

Despite the government’s efforts, what was feared has happened. Multiple schools found a coronavirus patient on the first day of school and as a result, had to shut down and inform all individuals to quarantine themselves at home. In fact, in the city of Incheon, 66 of 125 schools were temporarily shut down.

Beginning school despite the current situation was a disputed decision. Some individuals were worried about how the setback would give current upper-grade high schoolers disadvantages for their academic grades and upcoming college entrance exams. In a notoriously competitive education system, Korean students feel pressure to keep up with their peers by following the curriculum and preparing themselves for the Suneung––the single exam they have been preparing for since they were in elementary school– and willing to risk their lives to study. On the other hand, others are prioritizing safety over all else. Despite the preventive actions, opening schools could endanger not only students, teachers, and staff but it could stir another wave of infections that spreads across the country. That, in return, could postpone learning even further.

As the COVID-19 situation is gradually improving, countries are searching for ways to revert to previous ways of living while still being cautious of the risks. The impact of the virus on education is substantial but the virus has already proven its transmissibility and strength to its victims. Thus, the decision to open school is controversial and causes consequences either way. At this moment, South Korea is one of the first countries to reopen schools alongside countries such as Japan, Denmark, Norway, and Germany. Perhaps these countries provide a glance of what school might look like at Burnaby North Secondary in September.