The Hong Kong government should consider setting up an “isolation examination centre” for infected candidates to sit next month’s university entrance examination amid the fifth wave of Covid-19, a lawmaker and an NGO have suggested.

School exam
A HKDSE examination hall in Hong Kong. Photo: GovHK.

Speaking on RTHK on Thursday, pro-Beijing legislator Lillian Kwok of the DAB questioned whether it was ideal for the annual Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE) examination to begin on April 22 as scheduled.

The Education Bureau announced last month that candidates must conduct a Covid self-test before the examination and those testing positive would not be allowed to sit the assessment. Absentees may get an assessed mark from their internal test result, but the highest score awarded would be level 5 rather than 5**.

Kwok said some students were concerned that they would not be able to get into degree programmes that require top scores, such as the bachelor of laws and the bachelor of medicine.

HKU University of Hong Kong
The University of Hong Kong. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Self-study candidates who become infected may also be left with no choice but to postpone the key examination for a year, as they had no school-based assessment to show for, she said.

The lawmaker referred to last year’s examination arrangement Penny’s Bay Quarantine Centre and called on the authorities to look into the feasibility of grouping infected candidates in a designated examination venue.

“I know the whole thing is complicated. If [the government] insists on starting the examination on April 22, will our pandemic situation really be ideal? I personally don’t have that much confidence that [Covid] will be well under control by April 22,” she said.

She added the arrangement would be safe if the government provides sufficient protective gear and clear instructions to the examination personnel.

HKDSE 2020
A HKDSE examination hall photographed in 2020. Photo: GovHK.

Last year, seven DSE candidates who were undergoing mandatory quarantine took their written examinations at the Penny’s Bay Quarantine Centre. Video recording devices were set up in individual rooms to monitor the candidates’ conduct, while personnel invigilating the tests wore personal protective equipment and were stationed outside the room.

The students’ answer sheets were sealed in plastic bags following the test and were later sanitised and scanned for onscreen marking.

Opting for Covid?

Kwok cited some students as saying they would rather come down with Covid-19 now before the examination begins, which the lawmaker advised against. She said while many people believed the symptoms caused by the Omicron variant were relatively mild, the physical health of the patients would still be affected and may even impair a candidate’s ability to take the examination.

Hok Yau Club Student Guidance Consultant Ng Po-shing said on the same radio programme that candidates were under a lot of stress owing to the uncertainty over their Covid-19 rapid test result on the day.

YouTube video

It would be “good” if the government could put infected candidates in isolated examination centres, Ng said, but the arrangement may only be feasible when the city’s daily caseload falls below 10,000.

“If the case numbers remain high, it is very difficult to implement because it would require a lot of facilities,” the NGO consultant said.

As of Wednesday, Hong Kong reported 975,212 Covid-19 infections, among which 313,127 were discovered through rapid tests. The death toll currently stands at 4,847, which has multiplied around 22 times over in the two and a half months since the fifth wave began in January.

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Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.