Japan will accept entry to university exams even though applicants have close contact with omicron carriers

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Education Minister Shinsuke Suematsu speaks at a press conference in the Chiyoda district of Tokyo on the evening of December 27, 2021. (Mainichi / Natsuki Nishi)

TOKYO – People in Japan who have come in close contact with people infected with the omicron variant of the coronavirus may sit for entrance exams at national, public and private universities in rooms separate from the general population who pass the exams. tests if they do show no symptoms, Education Minister Shinsuke Suematsu revealed on Dec. 27.

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology changed its guidelines on entrance exams on December 24 and informed universities that it would not allow applicants who had entered in close contact with those who had the omicron variant of the coronavirus to take entrance exams, whether or not they are showing symptoms. The ministry reversed its decision, however, after university candidates and others expressed anxiety and objections over confirmation of community-acquired infections in various parts of the country.

On the night of December 27, Suematsu held an impromptu press conference at the ministry and apologized. “The department in charge should have taken more time to deliberate on the matter,” he said. “I understood that the discussion was insufficient.

The Education Ministry will re-examine the guidelines again and allow these university applicants to take the exams in separate rooms from other applicants. Like those who have come in close contact with people with other variants of the coronavirus, exam candidates must meet conditions including being negative on the PCR test, not showing any symptoms on the day of the exam, and refrain from taking public transport to their exam site. . In addition, the rules for college and high school entrance exams should be based on these rules. The National College Entrance Examination Center is also expected to allow people to take unified university entrance exams on January 15 and 16.

The Japanese government is asking people who have come in close contact with people with the omicron variant to quarantine themselves in special accommodation and other locations for 14 days. The Ministry of Education initially informed all universities that in the event that a person is asked to quarantine, they have the option of taking the entrance exams at a later date, regardless of whether or not they pass any exams. symptoms.

The Ministry of Education had held discussions with the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare and medical experts regarding changing guidelines for entrance exams. Suematsu said that as the unified college entrance exams fast approaching, “there was an eagerness to release the guidelines as early as possible to avoid confusion in the New Year.” which led to the amendments being finalized and sent to universities on December 12. 24.

However, once the ministry’s announcement went out, criticism that there had been little consideration for college applicants escalated on Twitter and elsewhere. There were those in government who warned that if something was not done, “things would become a big mess.”

It was possible that the issue was affecting administration approval ratings. On December 26, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida expressed concern that “college applicants are feeling anxious,” and immediately called on Suematsu to find a solution, including preparing separate rooms for the different candidates.

A government-linked source criticized the way the situation was handled by the Education Ministry as not using the lessons of 2021 as the issue of applicants for university entrance exams without any symptoms that had been in close contact with coronavirus patients had been a point of debate during the last round of entrance exams.

During university entrance exams that took place in the 2020 academic year, the Education Ministry first announced that it would not allow those who had come into close contact with people infected with the virus to take entrance exams and were in the middle of their 14-day health follow-up period. Later, however, the ministry consulted with the government coronavirus measures subcommittee and decided to allow candidates to take the exams in separate rooms after fulfilling certain conditions, such as a negative PCR test. It was a response that ensured the possibility of applying to universities while taking into account that applicants were anxious and taking steps to prevent the spread of infections.

But when it comes to its response to the omicron variant, the ministry has gone back to its old ways. He did not ask the Prime Minister’s office for an opinion. A government official said: “Mistakes in the management of entrance exams can deal a devastating blow to the administration. This was the lesson of the debate on the reform of entrance exams.

(Japanese original by Kohei Chiwaki, Richi Tanaka and Akira Okubo, Tokyo City Information Department)

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