Asia Today: S. Korea says stay home ahead of national exams

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Workers mark social distancing signs as parents wearing face masks pray during a service to wish for their children's success on the eve of the college entrance exam at the Jogyesa Buddhist temple in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020. About 490,000 high school seniors and graduates across the country are expected to take the College Scholastic Ability Test. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

HONG KONG – South Korean officials are urging people to remain at home if possible and cancel gatherings as about half a million students prepare for a crucial national college exam.

Vice Education Minister Park Baeg-beom says the 490,000 applicants include 35 virus carriers who will take the exams Thursday at hospitals or treatment shelters. Education authorities have also prepared separate venues for some 400 applicants currently under self-quarantine.

Applicants will be required to wear masks and maintain distance from each other. They will be screened for fever and take exams separately if they have symptoms.

Park Yu-mi, an anti-virus official in Seoul, pleaded with people to cancel all gatherings of more than 10, and for companies to have at least one-third of their employees work from home to ensure a safe environment for Thursday’s examination.

A recent spike in coronavirus infections has made this year’s exams more complicated and there are concerns that they could accelerate the spread of the virus.

The country on Wednesday reported 511 new infections, continuing a weekslong resurgence centered around the greater Seoul capital area that brought the national caseload to 35,163, including 526 deaths.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

— Japan’s parliament has approved legislation to aid the distribution and administration of coronavirus vaccines to all citizens. The government aims to secure enough vaccines for all 126 million Japanese by the first half of next year, before the Tokyo Olympics, which have been postponed until July due to the pandemic. Under the law passed Wednesday, free vaccinations will be available to all residents and the government will cover the costs of treatment and compensation for damages in case of any side effects. Priority for vaccinations will be given to the elderly and those with underlying health problems. Japan is struggling with a resurgence of the virus, with a rapid increase in serious cases burdening medical systems. Tokyo, Osaka and several other cities with rapid spikes in cases have asked places serving alcohol to close early in exchange for compensation. Nationwide, Japan had 150,386 cases, including 2,172 deaths, as of Wednesday morning.