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Egypt: Student anger over in-person exams despite Covid-19

Calls for Minister of Higher Education Khaled Abdel Ghaffar to be dismissed over his comments
Many have used the minister's comments to highlight the crowded nature of university education and the threat it could pose to the health of students (Screengrab/Social media)

Egypt's Minister of Higher Education Khaled Abdel Ghaffar has been the subject of fierce criticism from students in the country following his announcement that all students must return to school for exams amid the coronavirus pandemic

Abdel Ghaffar announced on Sunday that all studies and exams at university level would recommence in person from 27 February, following closures in the month of January. 

According to a statement issued by the minister, no plans have been put in place to allow for online exams or research projects, and students can choose to postpone the academic year if they have concerns related to their health. 

The decision has sparked uproar online, with many students expressing concern over the spread of the pandemic and fears over using public transport, which makes social distancing difficult. 

In an interview aired on the MBC Egypt channel earlier this week, Abdel Ghaffar stressed that in-person education must resume.

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“Those who do not want to learn can stay in the comfort of their own homes, but give others an opportunity to learn,” he said. 

“Can you honestly tell me that students have been staying home all this time? So who were those out watching the football matches and handball matches, in malls and sports clubs? Those are all young people or university students,” he added. 

In a tweet, the Ministry of Higher Education said that regular meetings would be held to review and ensure sanitary measures are in place.

Online, many have accused the minister of putting the lives of students at risk, particularly as the country grapples to deal with the surge of coronavirus cases. 

Hundreds of people used the hashtag  "Dismiss the higher education minister" to share their concerns about the decision. 

Some shared images of crowded university hallways and lecture rooms, stating that the resumption of classes and exams would only worsen the surge of coronavirus cases. 

 Translation: The issue is with transportation, even if the higher education minister is dismissed

Many students have also criticised the lack of infrastructure and systems available in the country to allow for online learning. 

Reports have revealed that many doctors and hospitals in Egypt are not properly equipped with personal protective equipment (PPE) and that a surge in cases could push the country’s healthcare system to the brink of collapse. 

Translation: Unfortunately, our lives and health is not important to them. What will happen if a student dies? 

Rick Brennan, director of the World Health Organisation’s Health Emergencies Programme for the Eastern Mediterranean, said that the official numbers of Covid-19 cases in Egypt are likely much higher than what has been reported

In January, videos of patients pleading for oxygen in hospitals went viral, reflecting the dire situation in the country and how many people were turned away due to medical supplies running out. Other videos showed panic in hospitals after oxygen supplies ran out. 

Earlier this month, the government unveiled plans to charge people to receive the Covid-19 vaccine, allowing only 4 percent of the North African country's 100 million people to receive the free jab.

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