Students, parents grapple as latest outbreak of virus spreads at Seoul middle school

An outbreak of virus infections among schoolchildren in Korea’s capital has the government scrambling to find a solution.

Coughs, sneezes and frequent fever-like symptoms in students at Seoul’s Dongdaemun high school and middle school have left families fearful and children restless.

The virus continues to rise, adding more than 1,000 students to the 108 who have already been infected since the outbreak began Wednesday, the Kangbuk Institute, a public health information network, reported Friday.

Officials began cleaning all 560 school buildings across Seoul early Friday afternoon, an afternoon nap time for many students.

“It’s been up to 5,000, maybe even 6,000 students (affected),” said Park Young-hee, the director of the Center for School Safety.

Since Wednesday, students, teachers and staff in the city have been advised to stay in school or change locations. The government has been reaching out through media outlets and using loudspeakers in neighborhoods around the city to try to prevent the virus from spreading.

“We are trying to identify students at risk for catching the virus,” said Park. “There is no reason to think that one student or class is at greater risk than another. By facing the epidemic with courage, we can fight it together.”

Fearing their children may spread the virus, families are buying disinfectant at large retailers and despatches from home.

About 1,500 students reported being absent from Dongdaemun High School early Thursday. Although these numbers were much higher than normal, the school hosted a three-hour assembly Friday to help students remain together.

Battering ram-carrying soldiers dropped by with reinforcements.

“In our main area the army is ready to reinforce,” said Park. “We have helicopters, fire trucks and medical brigades. Usually, by the afternoon it will be well under control. But there are places where we are planning to escalate our presence. That’s why we are confident it will be under control by evening.”

Mother Yu Hyun-kyu said that her 7-year-old daughter was feeling a lot of stress. “As a parent it’s painful for me to watch my daughter at such a low point in her life. Our community, as a whole, should be there for the students and their families, especially when we are all afraid for them. It is heartbreaking to see them deal with such hardships.”

Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon told reporters on Thursday that he is committed to restoring “normalcy” to the city.

“It’s all about students coming back to their normal lives,” said Park. “There are parents who come here to do a bit of drying out as a preparation for their children’s return to school, while there are other students who are helping to spread information about the epidemic.”

Seoul officials will hold a meeting with the president, city council members and government agencies Saturday to discuss measures to contain the virus outbreak.

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