Turkey sends ambulances to COVID-19 patients for high school exams as social distancing fails

Middle school students with COVID-19 in Turkey’s eastern Adıyaman province were transported by ambulance to a testing centre in order to take their high school entrance exams, state-run Anadolu Agency reported on Saturday.

The students, who have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, were taken from their homes by emergency response units and placed in a separate classroom to take the centralised exam.

“I will take my test now, and afterwards they will drop me back home,” Aydın Bekmezci, a student who recently tested positive for COVID-19 and was under quarantine at home, told Anadolu.

Some 1.6 million students are taking the high school entrance exams (LGS), which last for roughly two-and-a-half hours.

Exam monitors distributed masks and disinfectants to students upon arrival, Cumhuriyet reported, but the children were allowed to take their masks off if they wished once they were seated.

Because the students taking the test are younger, the test includes a break after 45 minutes, during which both students and parents waiting outside schoolyards were seen ignoring social distancing rules.

There were no warning announcements to keep social distancing at the schools, citizen journalists dokuz8 Haber said in a tweet.

Better measures could be found in some provinces, as seen in a tweet by the district board of education in capital Ankara’s Mamak district.

“I thank all those on duty for the exams for their hard work,” Mamak District Education Director Mustafa Özel said.

“No serious measures have been taken to stop the disease (spreading during the exams),” news site Bianet quoted Serdar Savaş, a genomologist and expert on preventative medicine, as saying. “It is a really very big mistake to hold the exam under these circumstances.”

“There will be five to six million extra people on the streets today, taking into account the children and their parents, as well as exam monitoring staff,” Savaş said, calling the situation a “tragedy.”

As a precaution the Interior Ministry put in place a nation-wide curfew between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Saturday, to reduce the risk of contact contagion.

Özgür Bozdoğan, Secretary of Education for teachers’ union Eğitim-Sen, told Bianet that students should have been placed in high schools without exams, if it wasn’t possible to postpone them.

“An exam under these conditions violates both the right to education and health,” Bozdoğan said, stressing that children did not have equal access to remote education methods Turkey implemented in March as schools were shut down as part of the country’s measures against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Before the exam started, Turkish Education Minister Ziya Selçuk advised the students to “answer the questions as if you were relaxing at home,” and “keep your social distance like you do when you play on the streets,” in a tweet.

“This year’s LGS champion is COVID-19,” one Twitter user said in response to the minister.