More than 650,000 Egyptian students started the final high school exams, known as Thanaweya Amma, nationwide on Sunday amid heightened precautionary measures to rein in the spread of the coronavirus.
Egypt’s cabinet has said that 100 million coronavirus-related protection products, including 33 million facemasks, gloves and hand sanitisers have been delivered to schools where the exams are being held.
Sanitising walk-through gates and temperature-reading devices have also been sent to exam venues, Education Minister Tarek Shawky said.
Special medical teams have been tasked with monitoring students’ temperatures and ensuring that physical distancing rules are observed and protective facemasks are worn by all students, he added.
The health ministry was stationing 2,500 ambulances outside schools nationwide to transport any suspected coronavirus cases to special hospitals.
Egyptian high school students walk through sanitizing gates at a school in Cairo on Sunday, June 21, 2020 (Photo: Egyptian cabinet's official Facebook page)
Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly, Education Minister Tarek Shawky and Health Minister Hala Zayed visited a school complex in Cairo’s northeastern district of Nasr City earlier on Sunday to inspect safety procedures adopted during the exams to limit the risk of virus transmission.
The Thanaweya Amma qualification, which determines university prospects based on grades obtained, has long been a source of panic for students and family alike, as they can in large part determine a pupil’s future.
Photos showing crowds of students and parents gathered outside schools seemingly not adhering to social distancing circulated on social media on Sunday.
Many parents as well as the Egyptian Doctors Syndicate have called for postponing the exams until the country sees a reduction in the number of new coronavirus infections. Others called for replacing the exams with an online research system adopted for other school grades.
The education minister had repeatedly said that the major exams cannot be postponed further, asserting that authorities are taking necessary precautions and offering students the option to delay the exams to the next school year if they wish to.
Students who show symptoms before or during the exams can retake them in the second round scheduled in August.
The exams had already been delayed by two weeks amid restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of the virus.
Egypt has suspended school and university classes since March as part of the sweeping anti-virus measures, and introduced a new research paper system as an alternative to the final exams in most other school grades.
As of Saturday, Egypt had registered 53,758 confirmed coronavirus cases, including 2,106 fatalities.
Also on Sunday, two university students were arrested on charges of leaking Sunday’s exam on social media websites five hours ahead of its start, a security source told Ahram Online.
High school students wearing protective masks wait in line during the first day of final exams, in Cairo, Egypt June 21, 2020. (Photo: Egyptian cabinet's official Facebook page)
A school employee hand students protection products before the start of the first day of final high school exams in Cairo, Egypt, June 21, 2020 (Photo: Egyptian cabinet's official Facebook page)
Egyptian PM Mostafa Madbouly (second from lef), Education Minister Tarek Shawky (M) and Health Minister Hala Zayed (R) during a visit to a school complex in Nasr City, Cairo, Egypt on Sunday, June 21, 2020 (Photo: Egyptian cabinet's official Facebook page)