Photo/Illutration Education minister Shinsuke Suematsu speaks at a news conference on Dec. 27. (Jun Miura)

In a sudden reversal, students deemed to have been in close contact with a person infected with the Omicron variant will now be allowed to take the unified university entrance exam scheduled in January under certain conditions.

Education minister Shinsuke Suematsu announced on Dec. 27 the ministry’s revised COVID-19 policy regarding the upcoming unified university entrance exam and other tests.

“We think it is important to make it so that as many test-takers as possible can take the exam,” Suematsu said at a news conference.

People who have been in close contact with an Omicron patient will be allowed to take an exam if they meet four conditions.

The four are as follows: They will have to take a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test and the result must be negative. The person must be asymptomatic on the day of the exam. They must not use public transportation. And the person must take the test in a separate room from the other test-takers. 

The ministry said on Dec. 24 that test-takers who have had close contact with an Omicron patient would not be allowed to take the test on the scheduled dates, even if they do not develop symptoms, and would have to take a makeup exam on later dates.

But within just three days it backtracked.

The ministry is expected to issue the latest guidelines to universities and also request junior and senior high schools to conduct their entrance exams in the same manner.

The guidelines the ministry made in June regarding the unified university entrance exam allowed a person who has been in close contact with someone who has the virus but does not develop symptoms and meets four conditions to take the exam on scheduled dates.

The ministry revised the guidelines on Dec. 24 in response to the Omicron variant.

But the revision was met with backlash from test-takers and other critics.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told the ministry on Dec. 26 to secure a way for students to take their exams.

Suematsu said the ministry “should have taken a little longer to make its decision.”