SEOUL, Feb. 25 (Korea Bizwire) — Child care has become a looming burden for parents whose children’s schools are closing for the next two weeks as part of the government’s urgent fight against the spread of the new coronavirus.
With the number of patients reaching the high hundreds, the government on Sunday announced a set of measures, including suspending classes at kindergartens and elementary, middle and high schools across the country until March 9.
The drastic measure, the first time schools across the country have all suspended classes, came amid concerns the contagious virus may take a toll on the younger population when schools start in March.
South Korea reported 893 cases of COVID-19 as of Tuesday morning, with the figure including a patient as young as 16 months old.
The education ministry said it will run child care classes at kindergartens and elementary schools and also consult with the labor and finance ministries to encourage companies to give child care leave to their employees.
“Please notify (companies) so that workers who need to urgently look after their children at home can use their annual leave as well as family care leave,” Labor Minister Lee Jae-gap stressed in a Monday meeting.
Under a gender equality law that was devised in January, employees can spend up to 10 days annually looking after family members. Employers who refuse to give such leave can be fined up to 5 million won (US$4,111).
Some companies have taken swift action.
LG, one of the country’s biggest conglomerates, said it has allowed pregnant employees and those who have to look after young children to work at home.
Even if they use leave, it will not be deducted from their annual leave, the company said in a press release.
Online shopping companies, such as 11Street, Tmon and WeMakePrice have also urged employees to work from home.
Most parents welcomed the decision, hoping it will help keep their children safe with fears over the contagious sharply ticking up.
But for those whose companies have not taken follow-up measures following the government announcement, child care is an inevitable headache.
Things are more serious for workers at smaller companies where employee shortage is a chronic issue.
“I don’t feel safe sending my child to the emergency child care classes and even if I do, I feel apologetic to the teachers because my child is the only one there,” wrote one mother in an online community.
“At the same time, the situation is not good at work so I feel pressured when taking days off and ultimately I feel sorry for my child.”
Concerns about a possible child care vacuum have prompted some parents to file petitions on an online petition board run by the presidential office.
“Please review plans to give at least one parent unpaid leave when children need to stay at home when classes are suspended,” requested one person whose petition has so far received over 5,000 online signatures.
“They are precious children growing up in a country where the birthrate is low. Please help so that they can be protected safely in their homes.”
In some cases, teachers who have to run emergency child care classes have voiced concerns about not being able to take care of their own children.
“There are pregnant teachers and teachers with children. They all have their own issues but cannot be protected and have to continue to work,” wrote one person who filed a petition, “How can teachers be protected?”