SKorea sees record spike in virus count as thousands take college exam

SKorea sees record spike in virus count as thousands take college exam

flood — South Korea reported its biggest daily jump in coronavirus infections since the start of the pandemic, as hundreds of thousands of masked students flocked to schools on Thursday to take the country’s highly competitive college entrance examination amid growing concerns about the delta’s spread.

About 509,000 students were taking the one-day exam at 1,395 locations across the country, including hospitals and shelters.

The annual test, called the “Suneung,” or College Scholastic Ability Test, is crucial in the education-obsessed country, where jobs, social situations and even marriage prospects depend heavily on the university a person attends.

Students were asked to take temperatures before entering classes, and those with fevers were sent to separate testing areas. The Ministry of Education said 68 infected students and 105 others in quarantine were tested for hours in isolation.

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The 3,292 new cases reported by the Korea Agency for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday represented the second consecutive day of more than 3,000 cases. The agency said that 29 patients died during the past 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 3,187, while 506 others are in serious or critical condition.

To reduce noise, transport authorities were planning to pause landings and departures at airports during the English listening portion of the test. Employees of government offices and private companies were late to show up, and the country’s stock market delayed its opening by an hour to clear the roads for test takers.

“(The students) were not given proper lessons (due to COVID-19) and I often saw my child getting very anxious and struggling,” said Seo Kwang Sun, the mother of a test taker in Seoul.

While schools have been alternating between offline and offline classrooms, the Education Department has planned a full return to classrooms starting next week to help reduce education gaps and align with the government’s virus strategies.

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Officials eased social distancing rules starting this month in what they describe as the first step toward restoring some of the pre-pandemic normality. By allowing large social gatherings and longer indoor dining hours in restaurants, officials have cited concerns about the pandemic’s impact on the economy and hoped that improving vaccination rates will reduce hospital admissions and deaths even if the virus continues to spread.

But there has been a rise in the number of serious cases and deaths among older adults who refused vaccinations or had their immunity waned after being injected early in the mass immunization campaign that began in late February, raising questions about whether the decision to ease virus restrictions was premature.

So far, officials have not issued any plans to reimpose stricter social distancing measures or delay the full reopening of schools.

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