Hundreds of thousands of masked students in South Korea, including 35 patients confirmed for Covid-19, took the highly competitive university entrance exam today despite a viral spread that forced authorities to tighten social distancing rules.

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

South Korean students take the Scholastic Aptitude Test at a school in Seoul, South Korea.

South Korean students take the Scholastic Aptitude Test at a school in Seoul, South Korea. Photography: Chung Sung-joon / Getty Images

The annual test, called “suneung,” or the College Scholastic Ability Test, is critical for many students. Job prospects and social standing often depend on which university you graduated from.

This year’s exam was originally scheduled for November but has been postponed due to the virus outbreak. Experts say intermittent online classrooms have widened the gap between high achieving and underperforming students due to reduced interaction with teachers, digital distractions and technical difficulties.

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

Students are required to take their temperature before entering test sites, to wear masks throughout the exam and to keep a distance from each other.

Students are ready to take the college entrance examination at a high school on Jeju Island, South Korea.

Students are ready to take the college entrance examination at a high school on Jeju Island, South Korea. Photo: Yonhap / Environmental Protection Agency

There are concerns that testing nationwide could accelerate the spread of the virus in South Korea. During a briefing on the virus on Thursday, health official Lee Sang-won said he felt “really sorry” that he should ask students to be vigilant and avoid gatherings even after the test ends later on Thursday.

He told me, “I would like to offer condolences to the test takers who studied and came to take the exam in a very difficult situation.” “I want to tell you to put the tension aside and have fun (after the test), but it’s a pity that I can’t say that given the current situation.”

The Associated Press reported that South Korea on Thursday reported 540 new cases, bringing the total to 35,703 with 529 deaths.

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