SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea opened COVID-19 quarantine centres on Thursday to house potentially thousands of teenagers with COVID-19 ahead of the country’s gruelling eight-hour college entrance exam in two weeks.
The highly competitive exam, held just once a year, is considered a life-defining event for many high school students, as a degree from a prestigious university is seen as the bare minimum for securing one of the coveted but limited corporate jobs in Asia’s fourth-largest economy.
To ensure every student who wants to is able to take the test, the government opened residential quarantine centres in hospitals and other treatment centres that can accommodate up to 3,000 students.
Around 510,000 final-year high school students, about 40% of the total across the country, are scheduled to take the mammoth test, which encompasses subjects ranging from languages to mathematics and science.
The quarantine centres opened on Thursday will house confirmed COVID-19 cases and possibly any students who come into contact with an infected person over the next two weeks.
It was unclear how many, if any, students were in the quarantine centres on Thursday. The Education Ministry is not expected to disclose the number of quarantined students who plan to take the test until closer to the exam date of Nov. 18.
On the test day, there will be 112 centres specifically for students who have been in quarantine and 33 hospitals and treatment centres will prepare special rooms for students with the virus, on top of the regular 1,255 test centres.
South Korea began easing social distancing rules this week as a part of a plan to gradually move toward living with COVID-19, buoyed by high vaccination levels among the country’s adult population.
Almost 90% of the adult population has been fully vaccinated, although the rate for children aged between 12 and 17 is just 0.6% because inoculations for that cohort began only in recent weeks.
While the most recent virus wave has brought far fewer serious infections than earlier outbreaks, the government said on Wednesday it would ramp up COVID-19 testing at schools after a sharp rise of infections among children.
The government is doing checks on hundreds of exam prep tuition centres and popular facilities like internet cafes, study rooms and karaoke parlours over the coming two weeks to ensure people are complying with social distancing measures, including mask wearing.
All high school classes will switch to remote learning from a week ahead of the exam to avoid any transmission, while parents are asked to stay home and avoid outside contacts.
The country reported 2,482 new cases for Wednesday. It has recorded a total of 373,120 infections, with 2,916 deaths so far. Hospitals are treating about 365 critical cases.
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