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South Korean schools resume full classes in person

Children attend a class at an elementary school in Daejeon, South Korea on November 22, 2021. Yonhap via REUTERS

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SEOUL, Nov. 22 (Reuters) – For the first time since South Korea began tackling its coronavirus outbreak in early 2020, all schools across the country resumed full-time in-person classes on Monday.

As the first country outside of China to face a major virus outbreak, schools in South Korea have seen various stages of closures, distance learning and hybrid arrangements.

Widespread testing, intensive contact tracing and follow-up applications have allowed South Korea to limit the spread of the virus without the widespread lockdowns seen in other countries, but previous efforts to fully open schools have been hampered by new waves of infections.

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The fully reopened schools are part of South Korea’s “living with COVID-19” plan, adopted after meeting its vaccination targets last month. Overall, 78.8% of the population is fully vaccinated, although this number drops to 12.8% for 12-17 year olds.

“It is true that many concerns remain,” South Korean Education Minister Yoo Eun-hye said on Monday during a visit to an elementary school in Seoul.

Even as it eased social distancing amid high vaccination rates, the country has battled some of the highest daily case numbers to date, including a record number of severe cases.

South Korea reported 2,827 new cases of COVID-19 at midnight on Sunday, down slightly from nearly a week’s daily totals of more than 3,000, including a record 3,292 new cases on Thursday.

Most worrying for health officials is a slight increase in severe cases requiring hospitalization, which have hovered near records of over 500.

Schools can always revert to distance learning or other hybrid devices if the coronavirus situation demands it. Precautions such as masks, dividers and other distancing measures remain in place.

“As the number of new confirmed cases increases, we call on parents and family members to pay close attention to prevention measures,” Yoo said. “The Ministry of Education and Education offices will thoroughly check prevention measures and support areas in need. “

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Reporting by Josh Smith; Additional reporting by Hyunyoung Yi. Editing by Gerry Doyle

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