Plastic visors in China and online classes in South Korea: this has been the return to class in Asia

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In March, many schools began to gradually open in China. Now, with the country not registering any contagion in 12 days, students are preparing to return to school with much less preventive measures than on their first return.
On April 27, Beijing reopened the schools. That Monday, the capital of China had not reported any case of coronavirus. They had not exceeded the total figure of 250 local infections for a couple of weeks. Only some infected arrived imported -and controlled- from other countries. That Monday, in the rest of the Asian giant only three new infections had been reported.

If we go back to February, during semi-lockdown, China was a country with 180 million school-age kids who were trapped in their homes. They had not attended class since the coronavirus crisis began in late January. But elementary and high school students followed the lessons online or on television. The curriculum had moved from classrooms to computers and to the public television channel, which had a daily schedule with English or history lessons. And also many teachers taught classes from their homes through ‘livestreamed’ platforms.

The government prepared the three largest telecommunications operators in the country, China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom, as well as technology companies such as Huawei, Baidu and Alibaba, to support a platform with 90 terabytes of bandwidth and 7,000 servers, ensuring that up to 50 million students could be connected simultaneously. In addition, 600,000 teachers were made available to them, with a live broadcast service called Dingtalk, designed by the giant Alibaba, to teach classes online.

It was not until the end of March that many schools in China were gradually opening to resume classes. They were strange days, in which images such as those of children from a primary school in the city of Hangzhou circulated through the media and social networks of the Asian country who, in addition to masks, wore cardboard hats with wings on the sides that measured 1 , 5 meters to maintain social distancing.

In Shanghai, the images arriving were of classrooms with desks separated by more than two meters. Before entering, the teachers took each student’s temperature. At the end of class, another temperature measurement was played and the cleaning staff disinfected the classrooms.

The same was seen in the schools of Hohhot, in the region of Inner Mongolia, where there were thermal imaging cameras in every building. Inside the classrooms individual partitions were placed to separate some desks from others. In Guang’an, Sichuan province, students, who directly had to protect their faces with plastic visors, could not gather in groups of more than three people during recess. In other cities such as Guangzhou, 208,000 high school and high school teachers and students underwent nucleic acid testing before schools were opened.

It took until May for Wuhan , the epicenter of the pandemic, to reopen its schools. First, the secondary and high school students resumed classes, then the youngest ones, sitting at desks separated more than a meter apart. In the dining rooms, the tables could not be occupied by more than three people together.

All this return to school, with strict measures, occurred in a country with more than 1,400 million inhabitants that had not yet been hit by strong outbreaks and where the average number of daily cases was counted in dozens at most. Today, China (84,981 cases and 4,634 deaths) accumulates 12 days without reporting any new local contagion. In Beijing, where more than half the population has passed the PCR test, it is no longer even mandatory to wear masks on the street . In September all the students will return to the classrooms as every year after the summer holidays, although the preventive measures will be much less than during the first return to school.

Now let’s take a little look at what is happening in Spain (430,000 cases and 28,996 deaths) with the controversy of the opening of schools . The debate focuses mainly on Madrid, a city that in the last 14 days has gone from 8,300 to more than 12,800 infections. Across the Community of Madrid, in seven days, from 15,000 cases have risen to more than 23,000. The regional government has announced that the school year will begin in person for students in Infant, Primary and 1st and 2nd of Secondary and semi-presential at the rest of the levels. The Community is also going to buy 70,000 computers and 6,000 cameras to be able to teach online classes in the event of a new confinement.

Let’s go back to Asia and look at what is happening in cities like Seoul, where schools have closed again this week and resume online classes due to the increase in cases, specifically today, 313 in Seoul of the 434 infections detected this Friday throughout Korea from the South (18,706 infections and 313 deaths), the highest daily number of infections since March . This measure has been announced by the Ministry of Education of the Asian country and will last at least until September 11. The decision comes after 150 students and 43 teachers have tested positive in the South Korean capital in the past two weeks. South Korea closes classrooms in its capital when countries that have cities with many more daily cases want to open them.

Only students in the final year of high school will continue to attend South Korean classrooms with limited capacity. According to EFE, since May the educational centers have applied a system whereby only one third (two thirds for the Baccalaureate) of the students in each class can attend simultaneously in person (the other third / two thirds must attend online and shifts for one or another modality they rotate throughout the week). South Korea has had ups and downs in its return to school. At the end of May, the government announced the gradual reopening of the schools, but after about days 200 schools had to be closed due to outbreaks in Seoul.

Another different case is that of a neighboring country, Japan (63,752 infections and 1,230 deaths). When they exceeded 900 infections in February, the Government of Shinzo Abe called for the closure of all primary and secondary schools. In March, the state of alarm was lifted and a month later all schools reopened with temperature controls, limited capacity in classrooms and social distance. After the summer holidays, this week all the students have returned to schools with a certain normality despite the fact that the country is facing a new outbreak that since July has added more than 20,000 infections.

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