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At the beginning of the summer, many East Asian campuses were returning to some semblance of normality, albeit with masks and temperature checks.

The plan was to resume teaching on a hybrid model in September, with online classes acting as a backup or alternative for overseas students. Even the region’s iron-clad travel restrictions loosened slightly for returning international students.

But third waves of COVID-19 have caused some East Asian university systems to take U-turns on those decisions, even though infection rates remain lower than those in the West.

Hong Kong was originally going to return to face-to-face teaching in September. But when a third wave began in July, all public universities backtracked to online-only classes.

Karen Grépin, an associate professor in the University of Hong Kong’s School of Public Health, said “as long as there is ongoing transmission of COVID-19 in communities, there is a risk that there will be transmission on campuses. Reopening universities and colleges will be particularly challenging, more so than schools, because campuses tend to draw students from a broader range of geographies -- from different states/provinces and even from around the world.”

Japan had also controlled the virus relatively well until July, when a record-high spike of 1,000 cases in a day was recorded.

The University of Tokyo said it was “constantly monitoring the situation.” Campus visitors were being asked to log their temperatures and physical symptoms via an online log and to report planned activities.

In South Korea, the Centers for Disease Control said the COVID situation was worse in August than it was in May.

Seoul National University has said elective and lecture-based courses will now be held online, while required or practice-based classes will be conducted on a hybrid model.

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