Hundreds of thousands of masked students in South Korea, including 41 confirmed Covid-19 patients, took the country’s highly competitive university entrance exam.
About 426,340 students sat the one-day exam at about 1,380 sites across the nation on Thursday, including hospitals and other medical facilities.
Those in self-quarantine and the 41 virus patients sat separately from the other students, according to the country’s education ministry.
The annual exam, called Suneung, or College Scholastic Ability Test, is crucial in the education-obsessed country, where job prospects, social standing and even who you marry can often depend on which university you attend.
In order to clear the road for test takers, government offices and many private companies asked their employees to come in late.
This year’s exam had been originally scheduled for November but was 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, the mother of a test-taker.
“I hope everyone will avoid making mistakes, do their best and get good results.”
In Seoul, mothers hugged their children and patted their backs before they entered a temporary exam site set up at a high school.
One shouted, “don’t be nervous!” and “do well!”, while another screamed “cheer up!”
Students were required to have their temperature taken before entering the test sites, wear masks throughout the exam and maintain their distance from each other.
They had to bring their own water and lunch because they were not allowed to use drinking fountains at the sites or go outside to get meals.
South Korea has been relatively successful in containing coronavirus this year thanks to its acclaimed rapid tracing, testing and treatment strategy, combined with the widespread public use of masks.
But it is now grappling with a spike in infections after it eased distancing rules in October.
Authorities last week restored stringent distancing restrictions in the greater Seoul area and other places.
On Thursday, South Korea reported 540 new cases, taking the total to 35,703 with 529 deaths.