South Korea schools to stay shut for two more weeks

Quarantine officials disinfect a classroom at an elementary school in Suwon, South Korea, on Feb 19, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

South Korea has delayed the reopening of schools by another two weeks as the number of coronavirus in-fections continued to climb, hitting 4,335 yesterday.

A total of 599 new cases were reported, while four more fatalities brought the death toll to 26.

The Education Ministry announced yesterday that schools would now reopen on March 23, citing concern over a spike in infections among minors aged below 19. Among minors, 37 new cases were reported yesterday, bringing the total to 201.

Schools were originally slated to re-open yesterday.

The extra time will help assuage fears of potential mass infections within schools and allow time for them to ensure a safe environment for students before reopening, the ministry said.

Students are encouraged to learn from home instead, using digital resources and online content provided by the ministry.

To cope with the rapid spread of the coronavirus, the government has drawn up a massive 6.2 trillion won (S$7.2 billion) supplementary budget and aims to get it passed in Parliament by March 17.

But the spike in infections in the south-eastern city of Daegu and the surrounding North Gyeongsang province, which jointly account for more than 80 per cent of infections, has put a strain on hospitals, which are facing a manpower shortage and lack of hospital beds.

The Pohang Medical Centre in North Gyeongsang province, for instance, is short of nurses after 16 of its 100 nurses quit last week, citing overwork and personal reasons.

Keimyung University Dongsan Medical Centre in Daegu has also appealed for more medical personnel, as it plans to increase the number of beds from 240 to 300. Doctors and nurses there are exhausted after working 12-hour shifts for two weeks without a break.

There are now 3,081 cases in Daegu, many linked to the secretive Shincheonji Church of Jesus.

Infections in capital city Seoul have grown to 91, while Busan, the second largest city, has recorded 88 cases. South Korea has so far conducted tests on 105,379 people, with 33,799 results still pending.

Meanwhile, donations are pouring in from celebrities and companies. Education company Kumon has donated 2 billion won, while chemical firm KCC Corporation and video game developer Krafton have each contributed 1 billion won.

Actor Lee Min-ho chipped in with 300 million won through the donations platform Promiz that he started in 2014. Promiz said in a statement yesterday that it hoped the donation will go towards helping families struggling to buy masks and sanitary products, and "ensuring that children in vulnerable situations are safe".

Actress Son Ye-jin donated 100 million won to the Daegu branch of Community Chest Korea, saying that the virus outbreak in Daegu was "especially heartbreaking" for her as she was born and raised in the city.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 03, 2020, with the headline South Korea schools to stay shut for two more weeks. Subscribe