Despite an uptick in Covid-19 deaths and infections across the country, Pakistan began its Cambridge International AS and A-level exams on Monday with officials assuring students that “strict implementation” of health protocols would be followed at all times. “These are tough times, and difficult decisions have been made keeping the students best interest in view,” Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood tweeted on Monday. “British Council is committed to strict implementation of SOPs [standard operating procedures] and we will monitor them closely,” he added, before wishing “all students taking exams starting from today, the very best.” The decision by the government to hold the exams during the third wave of the coronavirus outbreak in the country has faced mounting criticism, particularly from students demanding that the tests be cancelled or postponed. Several students took to Twitter to protest against the move on Thursday, with #ImranKhanCancelEXAMS becoming one of the top trends on the social media site in Pakistan. The government, however, said that the exams would be held on schedule with AS and A-Levels starting on April 26 and O Level and IGCSE exams on May 10. In a separate tweet on Monday, Shafqat Mahmood announced that students who choose to defer their upcoming Cambridge examination of May/June – due to the rise in pandemic – could switch to the October/November cycle with the same fee paid earlier. The minister also posted a supporting document provided by Cambridge Assessment International Education to answer different scenarios that facilities the students. According to the document, in some syllabuses, candidates could take the component in a way that is easier to manage. For example, AS & A Level, Art & Design candidates can produce one piece of course work instead of three. It added that schools could apply for exemptions where they feel candidates were not able to complete the syllabus due to any reason. Candidates could choose not to take a component but can still receive an overall syllabus grade, the document stated. “Students can receive a grade, when for any reason they miss some exams. Cambridge will give results to all students who have taken at least one component of a subject in the May / June 2021 exam series,” it added.