Asia Today: China's university exam begins after virus delay

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A woman wearing a face mask to protect against the new coronavirus films students leave the school after finishing the first day of China's national college entrance examinations, known as the gaokao, in Beijing, Tuesday, July 7, 2020. China's college entrance exams began in Beijing on Tuesday after being delayed by a month due to the coronavirus outbreak. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

WELLINGTON – Almost 11 million students began taking China's university entrance exam Tuesday after a delay as the country worked to bring down coronavirus infections.

The grueling four-day exam known as “gaokao" can be a key determinant of a student’s future and was pushed back weeks from its scheduled date. The exam is believed to be the first mass gathering event since the virus outbreak and administrators are enforcing strict rules to prevent infections, including proof of wellness, social distancing and the wearing of masks.

In Beijing, the number of students in each room was reduced from 30 in a typical year to 20 to maintain distance between the test-takers.

All of the new infections China reported Tuesday were people returning from overseas. Shanghai authorities say the two cases confirmed there in the past 24 hours were students who had returned from schools in Britain and the United States.

The student who returned Saturday from Britain tested positive in quarantine. The second student was diagnosed after arrival Tuesday.

Another 108 people who had been aboard the two students’ flights were also placed in quarantine.

Shanghai has reported almost 700 cases of COVID-19, split between those imported from abroad and those spread locally. China has reported more than 83,000 cases since late last year.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

— India’s death toll from the coronavirus pandemic has crossed 20,000 and its cases have passed 700,000. The country reported 467 new deaths in the last 24 hours, taking the toll to 20,160. It also recorded 22,252 new infections, increasing the total to 719,665. The rate of new virus infections and deaths in India are now rising at the fastest pace in the last four months. Health officials fear the number of deaths could rise significantly in the coming weeks. India has 1.3 billion people and has the third-most cases after the United States and Brazil.

— Australia’s second-largest city of Melbourne has been ordered into lockdown for a second time as coronavirus cases surge. Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews told reporters that residents will be prohibited from leaving the metropolitan area for six weeks except to go to work or school, for care or care giving, for daily exercise, and for food and other essentials. He said 191 more cases have been detected, the most in a single day. Australia has been among the world’s most successful countries in containing its coronavirus outbreak, with the exception of Melbourne. The country has more than 8,500 cases and 106 deaths.

— Air New Zealand has put a temporary hold on new bookings for flights into the country while the government tries to find enough quarantined hotel rooms for people returning home. The carrier says the hold will last for three weeks. New Zealand has eliminated community transmission of the coronavirus but is still getting cases at the border. Housing Minister Megan Woods says the government is housing nearly 6,000 people in quarantine facilities with more arriving as the pandemic worsens globally.

— A commuter railway line in the Philippine capital will be shut for five days starting Tuesday after nearly 200 employees, including 15 ticket sellers, tested positive for the coronavirus, officials said. The shutdown of the 13-station MRT Line 3, which runs nearly 17 kilometers (10.5 miles) from north to south in metropolitan Manila, further complicates a transport shortage caused by virus restrictions. The government is allowing the use of more shuttle buses to ease the shortage. Asked how commuters who may have had contact with the ticket sellers at busy stations can be traced, presidential spokesman Harry Roque did not give a clear reply and instead asked such commuters to voluntarily go into self-quarantine “because we will never know who you are.” The railway management said employees have worn protective gear since operations resumed last month. They said all train coaches and stations will be disinfected. The Philippines has seen a spike in infections in recent days after easing quarantine restrictions and ramping up tests. It has confirmed nearly 48,000 infections, including 1,309 deaths.

— Hong Kong reported nine local coronavirus infections on Tuesday, with officials saying a new wave of infections may be under way. The nine were classified as locally transmitted cases because the patients did not have recent travel history. “Since last weekend, the local epidemic situation has changed quickly. The situation is very critical,” said Wong Ka-hing, controller of Hong Kong’s Center for Health Protection. He called for a tightening of social distancing restrictions, which have been relaxed in recent weeks as cases declined. Hong Kong has reported a total of 1,300 coronavirus infections.

— South Korea confirmed 44 new cases of the coronavirus, a continuation of an uptick in new infections beyond the greater Seoul area. The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday the additional cases took the national tally to 13,181 with 285 deaths. It says 20 of the newly reported cases were locally infected patients, 12 of them in the Seoul metropolitan area and the rest eight from two central cities. The agency says 24 cases came from overseas.


This story has been corrected to show the Chinese university exam runs for four days, not two days.