Hong Kong holds virus-delayed exams with strict health checks

Hong Kong (AFP) –


Students in Hong Kong wore mandatory face masks and had their temperatures checked as they filed into exam halls on Friday to take crucial university entrance tests, delayed by a month due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Tens of thousands of pupils will sit the Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE) exams across hundreds of centres over the next month in the financial hub, which on Friday reported no new virus cases.

Strict social distancing measures were put in place at test venues as classrooms were converted into extra exam halls to allow students to sit at least 1.8 metres (six feet) apart.

At one school in Kwai Chung district, robots were used to help disinfect desks and chairs an hour before the first exam started. They dispensed hand sanitiser to students in the waiting area and even voiced encouraging remarks.

All candidates have to wear masks, go through shoe-disinfection and hand-cleaning areas, submit health declaration forms and have temperature checks before entering the centres.

Invigilators on Friday wore gloves as they gave out papers and hand sanitiser to students on the first day of exam season, which was originally due to start on March 27.

Around 3,300 students sat Friday's visual arts exams, while more than 50,000 students will take exams on core subjects starting from Monday.

The education bureau has prepared 200,000 bottles of hand sanitiser for students.

Hong Kong's daily number of new infections has now been in single digits for 13 days in a row.

The city has recorded 1,035 COVID-19 cases since January, with four deaths.

Despite its proximity to the Chinese mainland where the deadly virus was first detected, the financial hub has managed to stave off a runaway outbreak -- partly thanks to the public overwhelmingly embracing masks, hand hygiene and social distancing.

Earlier in the week the city extended to May 7 strict rules including a ban on gatherings of more than four people, the closure of entertainment venues and a minimum of 1.5 metres between tables in restaurants.

Hong Kong's encouraging statistics have led to increasing calls and hopes that the city's measures will be eased after the current extension.

The COVID-19 crisis dissipated the mass demonstrations that convulsed the semi-autonomous Chinese city for seven straight months last year.

But on Friday, a group of around 30 gathered at the IFC mall for a pro-democracy lunchtime rally, during which the participants kept to social distancing guidelines.