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Aleppo’s exam during Coronavirus outbreak amid proforma preventive measures and crowding 

Students at the entrance door of the Faculty of Economics at the University of Aleppo (Enab Baladi)

Students at the entrance door of the Faculty of Economics at the University of Aleppo (Enab Baladi)

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Aleppo – Urwah al-Mundhir

Despite the severity of the outbreak of the novel coronavirus epidemic (COVID-19) and the growing number of confirmed cases in Syria, the Syrian regime’s Ministry of Higher Education insists on the conduct of examination in the province of Aleppo, counting on students’ awareness to practice preventive measures, and social distancing. This provoked the anger of numerous students, who created groups on social media sites, in an attempt to dissuade the ministry from its decision, yet, exams have already begun, and they do not seem that they will stop. 

The number of coronaviruses confirmed cases in the areas controlled by the Syrian regime is increasing at an accelerating pace, according to the lists of the Syrian Ministry of Health, in conjunction with poor living conditions, and the proliferation of queues before bakeries and stated-own trade halls. Besides, the coronavirus testing centers became crowded with people as well. 

Formal procedures 

In advance of exams, the Ministry of Higher Education announced on 5 August that final year examinations will not be postponed, they will take place as scheduled, with the decision to compel students to wear face masks, not allowing anyone to enter the university campus without face coverings, under penalty of law.

However, students infected by COVID-19 are allowed to take their exams later in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus; they should first suspend their enrollment applications.

Muhammad Lotfi, a student at the University of “Aleppo,” said to Enab Baladi, “We were hoping that the Ministry of Higher Education would assume its responsibility towards the health and safety of students, especially as it runs many university hospitals, and touches the reality closely. Nevertheless, the ministry made no exam schedule change, exams are conducted as already scheduled, without achieving the minimum coronavirus preventive measures; most students are going to their university by crammed public transit, with most students cannot afford to buy COVID-19 prevention equipment including “the very expensive sanitizers and facemasks.” 

Before each exam, students congregate outside the college’s main gate, waiting for a permit to enter the college’s building and head to the exam halls. Some officials from “the Students’ Union” and the “Baath Party” stand in attempts to force everyone to wear masks.

Youssef Nassar, a student at the Faculty of Law, told Enab Baladi that the number of students of his class was 2,300, asking, “How do they enter a door with a width of three meters within ten minutes (when the halls are opened before the exam) and achieve social distancing?”

Nassar describes the procedures as “formal.”

 On a visit made by Syria TV to the Faculty of Economics, there was ignorance and lack of implementing measures, as Syria TV filmed scenes after the students left the examination halls and the students’ over-crowding ended.

A student in the administrative body at the College of Science said, in a student debate that Enab Baladi verified its content, “The exams are a fait accompli imposed by the Ministry of Higher Education. We do our best to combat and take precautionary measures against the coronavirus, but the college buildings are not designed to accommodate these large numbers of students, and this limits the university’s capacity to achieve social distancing.

Dormitory as a hotbed of coronavirus infection

Aleppo University Dormitory includes students from other governorates, where four students stay in one room, with the absence of all preventive measures, low level of hygiene, the use of shared sanitary facilities such as kitchens, toilets, and bathrooms. 

Luay al-Saadi, a student from Daraa governorate at Aleppo University, told Enab Baladi, “I cannot afford to live outside a university housing. The cheapest place to rent can cost me more than 35,000 Syrian pounds (SYP- 16 USD).

Therefore, I have to stay in a room with three students from different governorates and share toilets and kitchen, with 60 students in the same ward.”

Al-Saadi added, “One of the students in the opposite room suffers from symptoms of COVID-19, and it was reported about him, but no response yet.”

He indicated that he is “compelled” to sit for exams and pass to obtain the postponement of compulsory service.

The supervisor of one of the housing units at the University of “Aleppo”, who preferred not to be named, told Enab Baladi, “University housing is a place where several students stay together. We cannot shut it down temporarily despite our prior knowledge of the inability of its residents to distance themselves physically, because most students cannot afford to rent a house.”

As of  15 August, the number of confirmed cases related to COVID-19  in the regime-controlled areas reached 1,515, and the death toll was 58. 

It is worth mentioning that there are 150 confirmed coronavirus cases and one death in Aleppo. 

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