Key test: South Koreans sit university exam amid COVID-19 surge | South Korea

Nearly 500,000 high school students are sitting the test with stringent measures imposed to curb the virus.

South Korea fell quiet on Thursday as hundreds of thousands of students sat for the country’s high-stakes national university entrance exam amid a surge in coronavirus cases that has prompted new measures to curb its spread, including for candidates sitting the test.

Teenagers spend years preparing for the exam, which can mean a place in one of the elite colleges that are seen as key to future careers, incomes and even marriage prospects.

This year, the coronavirus pandemic has added to the pressure – delaying and disrupting the school year and at times forcing all classes online.

At the elite Ewha Girls’ Foreign Language High School many students arrived on their own or with their test-taking friends and some parents seemed more nervous than their children. Tightened curbs following a wave of new cases meant students were banned from cheering on their classmates at the school gates as they arrived for the exam.

“I’m actually quite relieved now that it’s all going to be over soon,” said 18-year-old Kim Chae-eun.

“This exam is important because Korean society makes you study your whole life up till this point for this one exam.”

Only parents were at the school gates because students were banned from cheering on their classmates because of coronavirus restrictions [Jung Yeon-je/AFP]
The annual College Scholastic Ability Test, is a high-pressure standardised entrance exam, that can set the course for young South Koreans’ future careers [Jung Yeon-je/AFP]

South Korea brought its outbreak under control earlier in the year with an effective system of  “trace, test and treat”, but in recent weeks new cases have surged again.

On Thursday, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) announced 540 new cases, bringing the country’s total caseload to 35,703, and the authorities have warned measures might need to be tightened further if cases are not brought under control this week.

The country operates a five-tier social-distancing system and greater Seoul – home to approximately half the country’s population – was put on Level 2 on November 24 as cases began to rise.

The exam itself is a particular concern, with nearly 500,000 pupils gathering in test centres across the country.

Students were checked on arrival and those showing temperatures of 37.5 Celsius (99.5 Fahrenheit) or higher – or other coronavirus symptoms – had to take the test in a separate, designated area.

Plastic see-through dividers were set up on each desk and students were required to wear masks throughout the test.

All candidates were advised to refrain from gathering and talking during breaks, with exam rooms to be ventilated after each session.

Quiet, please

The exam itself was delayed for two weeks due to the earlier disruptions to teaching, as all high schools across the country returned to online classes for a week to try and prevent school clusters.

“It will be even more difficult and worrisome to take the exam in the coronavirus

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The Latest: Young S. Koreans taking crucial university exam

A student checks the time as others wait for the start of the annual college entrance examination amid the coronavirus pandemic at an exam hall in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. South Korean officials are urging people to remain at home if possible and cancel gatherings as about half a million students prepare for a crucial national college exam.

A student checks the time as others wait for the start of the annual college entrance examination amid the coronavirus pandemic at an exam hall in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. South Korean officials are urging people to remain at home if possible and cancel gatherings as about half a million students prepare for a crucial national college exam.

AP

SEOUL, South Korea — Hundreds of thousands of masked students in South Korea, including 35 COVID-19 patients, are taking the country’s highly competitive university entrance exam despite a viral resurgence that has forced authorities to toughen social distancing rules.

The Education Ministry says about 493,430 students began taking the one-day test at about 1,380 test sites across South Korea on Thursday. It says the test sites include hospitals and other medical facilities where the 35 virus patients and hundreds of others placed under self-quarantine will take the exam.

The annual test is a crucial step for many students’ lives in the education-obsessed country. The university from which a South Korean graduates significantly affects job prospects, social standings and even marriage partners.

This year’s test was originally scheduled for November but was delayed due to the virus outbreak.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— U.K. approves Pfizer coronavirus vaccine for emergency use, puts Britain on track to start vaccinations soon

— International Red Cross seeks equitable access to vaccines

— Russia and Germany hit record numbers of daily coronavirus deaths

— Tokyo Olympic fans from abroad may have health tracked by app

___

Follow AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

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ISTANBUL — Turkey’s health minister has announced a plan for vaccinations starting with an experimental inactivated vaccine later in December to combat the COVID-19 pandemic amid a surge in infections and deaths.

Minister Fahrettin Koca had previously announced an agreement with Chinese biopharmaceutical company Sinovac for 50 million doses of CoronaVac, with the first shipment to arrive after Dec. 11. The minister said early-use authorization would be granted after Turkish labs confirm the vaccine’s safety.

“If developments continue positively as we expect, Turkey would be among the first countries in the world to begin vaccinations in the early phase,” Koca said Thursday.

Health care workers, citizens above 65 and people living in care homes will be the first groups to be vaccinated. Next will be essential workers and people above 50 with at least one chronic disease. Third will be people younger than 50 with at least one chronic illness, young adults and other workers would be vaccinated. The fourth and final phase will be for the rest of the population. Turkey’s president has said the vaccine will be administered free of charge.

In November, The Lancet published a study about the efficacy of Sinovac’s vaccine, saying efficacy was determined to be moderate.

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NEW DELHI — India is reporting less than 40,000 new daily coronavirus cases for a fourth straight day as it awaits a vaccine rollout for its vast

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Young S. Koreans taking crucial university exam

SEOUL, South Korea — Hundreds of thousands of masked students in South Korea, including 35 COVID-19 patients, are taking the country’s highly competitive university entrance exam despite a viral resurgence that has forced authorities to toughen social distancing rules.



A student checks the time as others wait for the start of the annual college entrance examination amid the coronavirus pandemic at an exam hall in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. South Korean officials are urging people to remain at home if possible and cancel gatherings as about half a million students prepare for a crucial national college exam. (Kim Hong-Ji/Pool Photo via AP)


© Provided by Associated Press
A student checks the time as others wait for the start of the annual college entrance examination amid the coronavirus pandemic at an exam hall in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. South Korean officials are urging people to remain at home if possible and cancel gatherings as about half a million students prepare for a crucial national college exam. (Kim Hong-Ji/Pool Photo via AP)

The Education Ministry says about 493,430 students began taking the one-day test at about 1,380 test sites across South Korea on Thursday. It says the test sites include hospitals and other medical facilities where the 35 virus patients and hundreds of others placed under self-quarantine will take the exam.



Parents pray during a special service to wish for their children's success in the college entrance exams at the Jogyesa Buddhist temple in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. Hundreds of thousands of masked students in South Korea, including dozens of confirmed COVID-19 patients, took the highly competitive university entrance exam Thursday despite a viral resurgence that forced authorities to toughen social distancing rules. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)


© Provided by Associated Press
Parents pray during a special service to wish for their children’s success in the college entrance exams at the Jogyesa Buddhist temple in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. Hundreds of thousands of masked students in South Korea, including dozens of confirmed COVID-19 patients, took the highly competitive university entrance exam Thursday despite a viral resurgence that forced authorities to toughen social distancing rules. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

The annual test is a crucial step for many students’ lives in the education-obsessed country. The university from which a South Korean graduates significantly affects job prospects, social standings and even marriage partners.



People wear face masks but stand close together as they wait for a subway train in Frankfurt, Germany, Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)


© Provided by Associated Press
People wear face masks but stand close together as they wait for a subway train in Frankfurt, Germany, Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

This year’s test was originally scheduled for November but was delayed due to the virus outbreak.

___

THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— U.K. approves Pfizer coronavirus vaccine for emergency use, puts Britain on track to start vaccinations soon

— International Red Cross seeks equitable access to vaccines

— Russia and Germany hit record numbers of daily coronavirus deaths

— Tokyo Olympic fans from abroad may have health tracked by app

___

Follow AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak



Healthcare workers protest coronavirus pandemic working conditions at Sunrise hospital Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)


© Provided by Associated Press
Healthcare workers protest coronavirus pandemic working conditions at Sunrise hospital Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:



FILE - In this Nov. 16, 2020, file photo, student nurse Ryan Eachus collects forms as cars line up for COVID-19 testing at a testing site set at the Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa, Calif. California reported more than 20,000 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020, shattering the previous record of 18,350 cases just a week ago. Overall, California has reported more than 1.2 million COVID-19 cases and more than 19,300 deaths. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)


© Provided by Associated Press
FILE – In this Nov. 16, 2020, file photo, student nurse Ryan Eachus collects forms as cars line up for COVID-19 testing at a testing site set at the Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa, Calif. California reported more than 20,000 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020, shattering the previous record of 18,350 cases just a week ago. Overall, California has reported more than 1.2 million COVID-19 cases and more than 19,300 deaths. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

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ISTANBUL — Turkey’s health minister has announced a plan for vaccinations

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S. Koreans take college entrance exam amid viral resurgence

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Hundreds of thousands of masked students in South Korea, including 35 confirmed COVID-19 patients, took the highly competitive university entrance exam Thursday despite a viral resurgence that forced authorities to toughen social distancing rules.

About 493,430 students were taking the one-day exam at about 1,380 sites across the nations, including hospitals and other medical facilities where the 35 virus patients and hundreds of other test-takers in self-quarantine sat separately from others, according to the Education Ministry.

The annual exams are crucial for many students in the education-obsessed country, where job prospects, social standing and even who you marry can often depend on which university you graduate from.


Education officials said authorities banned military exercises and will temporarily stop air traffic to reduce noise during English-language listening parts of Thursday’s exams, as they did in past years. Government offices and many private companies asked their employees to come in late, and the country’s stock market delayed its opening to clear roads for test-takers.

This year’s exams had been originally scheduled for November but were delayed due to the virus outbreak. Experts say on-and-off online classes have widened the gap between high achievers and low performing students due to reduced interaction with teachers, digital distractions and technical difficulties.

“If the exam had been delayed again, our kids would have felt much more psychological pressure … I think it’s fortunate the exam is taking place now,” said Kim Sun-wha, mother of a test-taker. “I hope everyone would avoid making mistakes, do their best and get good results.”

Mothers hugged their children and patted their backs before they entered a temporary exam site set up at a high school in Seoul. One shouted, “Don’t be nervous! Do Well!” and another screamed “Cheer up!”

Students are required to wear masks during the test, have their temperature taken and maintain distance from each other. Those with a fever will go to separate testing areas. There are a total of 1,383 sites, an increase of 198 from last year.

In recent days, South Korean officials have urged the public to stay home and avoid gatherings as much as possible to provide a safe environment for those taking the exams.

Park Yu-mi, an anti-virus official in Seoul, also asked companies to have at least one-third of their employees work from home.

There are worries that the nationwide exams could accelerate the viral spread in South Korea.

South Korea on Thursday reported 540 new cases, taking the total to 35,703. Last week it reimposed stringent distancing guidelines in the greater Seoul area and other places to try to suppress a spike in new infections.

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Associated Press journalists Kim Tong-hyung and Kim Yong Ho contributed to this report.

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