Disallowing staff and students from containment zones, making mask and a health self-declaration mandatory, and entry only for asymptomatic people are among the key measures in the Union Health Ministry's latest guidelines on conducting exams safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the Standard Operating Procedures issued Wednesday, the invigilator for for pen and paper-based tests will sanitise his/her hands before distributing question papers and answer sheets and the examinees will also do the same before receiving or handing back these materials.
"Use of spit/saliva for counting and distributing sheets shall not be allowed," the SOPs stated.
The collection and packing of the answer sheets will involve sanitisation of the hands at every stage. The answer sheets will preferably be opened up after 72 hours have elapsed post collection, the document recommend.
Staff at high risk such as older employees, pregnant women and those with underlying diseases shall not be deployed for invigilation or conduct of examination, it said.
They should preferably be deployed in tasks not requiring direct contact with the students, it stated.
For online or computer-based exams, the systems shall be disinfected using alcohol wipes before and after the test and record of all exam functionaries and examinees should be maintained for future reference and traceability, it said.
The students from coronavirus containment zones shall be given an opportunity to take the physical exam through other means or educational institutions shall arrange their papers at a later date, it said.
Also, only asymptomatic staff and students shall be allowed inside the examination hall, the SOPs stated, adding wearing face cover/mask is mandatory.
Authorities concerned should plan out the examination schedule in a staggered manner so as to avoid overcrowding at any examination center on any day, it stated.
Only those examination centers which are outside the containment zone shall be allowed to function, it said.
Appropriate arrangements for face covers/masks, hand-sanitiser, soap, sodium hypochlorite solution etc. shall be made by universities, educational institutions, examination authorities or centers to the staff as well as students, it said.
"Exam functionary and examinees may also submit self-declaration about health status at the time of entrance to the examination center. Such self-declaration form may be circulated at the time of issue of admit tickets," the guidelines said.
If any examination functionary/examinee fails to meet the self-declaration criteria, they shall not be allowed entry, the SOPs underlined.
Entrances of examination centres should have mandatory hand hygiene and thermal screening provisions, it said.
The guidelines mention that the examination center should have a designated isolation room for isolating any person who is found symptomatic.
A symptomatic candidate should be referred to the nearest health center and given an opportunity to take the exam through other means or the when the student is declared fit, it said.
However, if the student insists on taking the examination, he may be allowed to do so at a separate isolation room, it said. “The permission in such cases shall be granted as per the policy already enunciated on the issue by the Examination Conducting Authorities."
Students should also be given prior information on what they should carry, which includes exam related documents (admit card, ID card etc), face mask, water bottle, hand sanitizer etc.
Keeping in view the physical distancing norms, institutions should have adequate room capacity to ensure proper seating arrangement for examination.
Bags, books or mobiles should not be allowed in the examination center, the SOPs said, adding examinees will be escorted in batches to the allotted examination hall.
Frisking of examinees, if needed, shall be undertaken after thermal screening, they said, adding personnel involved in frisking shall wear triple layer medical masks and gloves.
Seating arrangement should be made in such a way that adequate social distancing is maintained, the guidelines said, adding institutions may adopt contactless processes like OR code, online forms, digital signatures for the examination, it said.
If any transportation is arranged by educational institutions conducting examinations, proper sanitization of buses/other transport vehicles shall be ensured.
Examination hall and other common areas shall be sanitised each time before and after examination and effective and frequent sanitation within the premises shall be maintained with particular focus on lavatories, drinking and hand washing stations/areas, the SOPs said.
Cleaning and regular disinfection using 1% sodium hypochlorite of frequently touched surfaces is mandatory, the SOPs stated.
In case of a suspect case or a person developing symptoms during the exam, the ministry said the person should be placed in a room or area where they are isolated from others.
"If symptoms deteriorate, inform the nearest medical facility (hospital/clinic) or call the state or district helpline. Disinfection of the premises to be taken up if the person is found positive," the guidelines stated.
“Examination centres are frequented by a large number of students (as well as their parents) and staff till the entire duration of the exam and therefore, it's vital to plan and conduct these examinations, while following specific preventive measures," the ministry said.