SEOUL, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun directed the education ministry Saturday to consider expanding in-person classes in schools in the new semester.

South Korean schools mostly offered remote learning or limited physical attendance last year to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.

“This year should be somewhat different,” Chung said at a meeting of the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters in Seoul.

“The Ministry of Education is directed to consult with health authorities and prepare ways to conduct classes in the new semester and prevent infections in schools,” he said.

The spring semester begins in March.

Chung cited presumably relatively low risks of infection in schools and growing side effects of remote learning among children and parents.

“There are concerns about a widening learning gap due to the prolonged remote classes and that the burden of taking care of children among parents is increasing,” he said.

“Also worrisome is the possible lack of socializing and depression among students who have not met their friends for a long time,” he added.

He mentioned a recent World Health Organization (WHO) report that children and teenagers have a lower COVID-19 infection rate than adults and show mild or no symptoms when infected.

“The research shows once the level of community transmission is not serious and anti-infection rules are well observed, schools are unlikely to be a major factor in the spread of infections,” he added.

Later in the day Kwon Joon-wook, deputy director of the Central Disease Control Headquarters, said health officials will thoroughly examine the COVID-19 risks for lower grade students of elementary schools.

“Health authorities will also closely consult with the educational authorities and experts,” he added during a press briefing.

Source: Yonhap News Agency