Special centres will be set up at the Hong Kong government’s isolation facility at Penny’s Bay for university entrance exam candidates who are close contacts of Covid-19 patients or infected themselves, with the annual assessments scheduled to start from April 22.
Education authorities on Monday said candidates who chose to sit the Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE) exams at the special centres would then have to remain at the facility for a full stint in quarantine, which lasts at least seven days, depending on their vaccination status.
Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung said a total of HK$20 million (US$2.6 million) would also be spent on providing rapid antigen tests to all candidates sitting the exams, as they and the invigilators would have to be tested on every exam day.
Yeung said the decision was made after considering the improved epidemic situation, as well as the views of schools and students. He said the government would announce changes in the arrangement as soon as possible if the health crisis worsened.
The city recorded 3,138 infections and 90 Covid-related deaths on Monday, marking the eleventh straight day that the daily number of cases dropped, and bringing the total infection tally to 1,174,560.
Under the arrangement, infected candidates who are well enough to take the exam or those under isolation because they are close contacts can do so at the Penny’s Bay facility, which will be vacated except for patients whose home conditions are not suitable for isolation.
These candidates should email the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority (HKEAA) or call the hotline at 3628 8860, and book a Covid-19 designated taxi to Penny’s Bay before 6.30am on exam days.
Although authorities admitted they had difficulties in estimating the demand for the special arrangement and backup venues would be considered, they believed Penny’s Bay, which has more than 3,000 units, would be sufficient.
“Our calculation is that we can have some 1,000 people there,” Yeung said.
Deputy Secretary for Education Hong Chan Tsui-wah said each candidate would be given two isolation units at Penny’s Bay, with one to be used as an exam room and the other for quarantine purposes.
Wei Xiangdong, secretary general of the HKEAA, said students needed to photograph their RAT result and show it to the invigilators along with their admission ticket on exam days. The admission tickets would be distributed from Thursday.
The HKEAA would conduct checks to ensure their RAT results were taken on the day of the exam, and students should keep their test results during the entire exam period.
Wei and Yeung warned against attempts to fake testing results.
“If we find out this is the case during the check, the highest penalty is being disqualified from the examination,” Wei said. “So, please don’t try.”
Hong said those who could not take the exams would be assessed based on their school performance.
Candidates living in buildings locked down under restriction-testing declarations will be given priority for testing so they can be released to sit the exam, according to Yeung.
About 60 per cent of candidates would finish all their exams within two weeks and the exam period would last till May 14, Yeung said. Practical exams for sports and music, however, would be postponed as planned until the end of May or June, with results to be announced on July 20. Yeung said he believed the delay would not affect students’ future study plans.
Wei said they would need to hire more invigilators for the special exam centres and Hong called on the teachers who had recovered from Covid-19 to apply for the job.
Invigilators will be given an extra HK$500 as hardship allowance on top of the original remuneration, which ranges from HK$133 to HK$200, according to exam authorities.
Wong Ching-yung, principal of Scientia Secondary School in Ho Man Tin, agreed that it was appropriate for the DSE exams to go ahead, as Covid-19 infections were falling and students were prepared to sit the test.
“Students’ emotions will definitely be affected if the tests are postponed,” he said.
Students sitting this year’s exams were relieved there would be no further delay, but some found the arrangement for special exam centres at Penny’s Bay inconvenient.
Michelle Pang, a Form Six student from STFA Leung Kau Kui College, said: “It is so far away from where I live … I believe that setting exam venues in different districts instead would be more accessible and cause less panic to the exam takers.”
Pang, 18, said she would not take the exams if she was infected.
“I would not stress myself out about taking the exams [if I tested positive], I’ll let the authorities decide my grade,” she said.
Anson Leung Chi-shun, a Form Six student at HKFYG Lee Shau Kee College, said he was worried he would not be able to book the designed taxi to go to Penny’s Bay if he was infected, and that alternative transport should be allowed.