The University of Hong Kong (HKU) and Chinese University medical schools will hold written exams this week, with hundreds of students taking part, despite a ban on gatherings of more than four people that went into effect on Sunday.
HKU’s Faculty of Medicine told students that the government has granted an exemption for the exams, while its Chinese University counterpart said it was awaiting final approval for the same privilege.
Some students scheduled to sit the exams, however, are concerned about the potential health risks and suggested they be postponed in light of the government’s recent delay of the Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE) exams until April 24 and the cancellation of international exams.
The government on Friday announced the implementation of a 14-day ban on groups larger than four amid a surge in Covid-19 cases, with 12 types of exemptions listed. Academic activities were not among those exemptions.
In an email to final year students on Sunday, HKU Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine’s Associate Dean Gilberto Leung Ka-kit said under the Medical Registration Ordinance, students must undergo the required qualifying exam from April 1 to proceed to internship training in July.
Leung added that the Medical Council of Hong Kong, which is responsible for granting provisional registration for the commencement of internships, found it “highly unlikely” that such registration could be given to students before they passed the qualifying exams.
“In regard to the Government’s latest regulation prohibiting group gatherings with more than four people in public places, I am pleased to update you that the Chief Secretary for Administration has granted exemption to our MBBS Final Examinations,” he wrote in the email.
“The community at large would expect to have doctors who have passed the qualifying examination to serve the general public,” Leung said.
A 2-meter radius will be set up between seats in the two exam halls on HKU’s Pok Fu Lam campus, while all of the 200 students involved will be required to wear masks.
Hong Kong’s examination authority previously advised DSE exam centres at schools to place each seat with a 1.8-meter distance in between.
Under the latest government regulations, the Chief Secretary for Administration has the power to permit some group gatherings under the condition they are necessary for governmental operation or if they are of “exceptional circumstances” that serves the public interest of Hong Kong.
At Chinese University, written exams for final year medical students will also be taking place beginning this Friday, with a total of more than 220 students expected to take part this year.
Faculty of Medicine Associate Dean Enders Ng Kwok-wai told students on Saturday in an email that the exams were likely go ahead with infection control measures in place, urging them “not to succumb to panic mode”.
“The Faculty is now actively liaising with the Department of Health regarding the arrangement,” said Ng. “Please stay calm. As FDR (Franklin D. Roosevelt) famously said: ‘The only thing we have to fear is … fear itself.’
“As the progress of the Covid-19 outbreak is unpredictable, after much deliberation, we believe it is indeed safer to hold the examination earlier than later.”
Students will be briefed on further details during an online session on Monday.
A final year medical student at Chinese University told the Post that some students felt the faculty’s exams arrangements were unreasonable, arguing they should be postponed for at least one or two weeks amid the recent sharp rise in infections.
“Some students have already reflected their concerns to the faculty,” the student said. “The faculty should at least explore some other options … If a student gets infected with the Covid-19 [during the exams], who would be responsible for that?”
“Students are really frustrated with the faculty’s handling of the event,” the student added.
A spokesman from the Food and Health Bureau confirmed in a reply on Sunday that the government had received the exemption applications from both HKU’s and Chinese University’s medical faculties, and that both applications were under consideration.
The bureau has not replied by press time to a follow-up inquiry on Monday as to whether the applications have been approved.
Chinese University’s Faculty of Medicine said in a reply that exams would proceed, as the pandemic could last for a long period and it was important to maintain the professional quality of graduates.
Students there will be spread across multiple exam venues with distanced seating arrangements at Prince of Wales Hospital – the teaching hospital of the university’s medical faculty.