TASHKENT (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of youngsters headed to sports arenas across Uzbekistan on Wednesday to sit university entrance exams in the open air due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The massive exercise, which will span two weeks, will see more than 1.4 million applicants take a three-hour test while seated at desks on the running tracks or walkways of the stadiums. They are competing for some 150,000 university places under a centralised admissions system.
Hundreds of young men and women attended the first session at one of the stadiums in Tashkent on Wednesday morning, wearing masks. The weather was comfortably warm for those seated in the shade while other test-takers used clothes and papers to protect themselves from direct sunlight.
The Central Asian nation of 34 million has just ended its second national lockdown after a mid-summer surge in cases stretched its healthcare system to the limit. The former Soviet republic has confirmed 42,370 COVID-19 cases with 324 deaths.
Uzbekistan said this week that courses at local universities would commence online rather than in person and schools would reopen on Sept.14, two weeks later than usual, with lessons reverting to distance learning depending on local circumstances.
The government said on Wednesday that cafes, restaurants and tea houses will reopen from Sept.5 with some restrictions, as well as cinemas, theatres and theme parks.
Mosques and other places of worship will be allowed to hold collective prayers from that date. Uzbekistan will also reopen its border with neighbouring Kyrgyzstan. Masks will remain mandatory in public areas and mass events will remain banned.
(Reporting by Mukhammadsharif Mamatkulov; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)