Nearly 90 per cent candidates appeared in the medical entrance exam National Eligibility cum Entrance Test held at over 3,800 centres across the country on Sunday amid strict precautions in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The National Eligibility cum Entrance Test began at 2 pm, but entry to centres started at 11 am.
Students were allotted different slots for staggered movement to ensure social distancing.
As many as 15.97 lakh candidates had registered for NEET, which was earlier postponed twice in view of the pandemic.
Based on random sampling, the National Testing Agency said that the attendance for the exam was between 85-90 per cent.
However, the official attendance figures were not available yet.
The attendance in 2019 was 92.9 per cent.
The candidates who missed the exams after testing positive for COVID-19 will get another opportunity to sit for the test, the date for which will be announced later.
Union education minister Ramesh Pokhriyal 'Nishank' wished luck to the candidates appearing for the exam and assured that arrangements were in place for their safety.
"NTA informed me that around 85-90 per cent students appeared in NEET exam. I sincerely thank all chief ministers and NTA for proper arrangements made to facilitate student participation. NEET participation reflects the tenacity and grit of young," he tweeted.
From this year the admissions to MBBS course in the 13 All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research, Puducherry will also be made through NEET following the amendment in National Medical Commission Act, 2019 passed by Parliament last year.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who has been demanding the exam be postponed following a spike in coronavirus cases, wished students while expressing his sympathies with those who could not take it due to the COVID-19 pandemic and floods.
"My best wishes to the students appearing for NEET exam and my sympathies to those who couldn't take it due to the Covid pandemic and floods. Wish Modi ji was as concerned about JEE-NEET aspirants and students as he is about his crony capitalist friends," he said on Twitter.
Mohammad Ovais, who came from Moradabad to his exam centre in Dilshad Garden in New Delhi, said his entry slot was at 11 am.
"I left from Moradabad at 5 am. It is not that risky if everybody follows all precautions, the problem arises when people take it casually. There was no crowding at the centres as everybody had designated slots," he said.
Vanhika Chaurasia, a resident of Rohini said, "Online exam would have been a better option than a pen and paper-based test but we have no option. More delay in exams would have caused loss of a year".
For Yuvraj Kumar, the bigger concern was travelling by public transport.
"Thankfully metro services resumed before the exam because I was concerned about that and other modes of public transport are not as safe. We were given separate masks at the centre and we had to dispose the one we were wearing before," he said.
Ajmal Ismail, who is appearing for the exam at a Mayur Vihar centre said, "More than the coronavirus it was the anxiety whether exams are happening or will still be postponed, that caused me more stress. I have done my preparation well and taken all precautions."
The test was offered in 11 languages -- English, Hindi, Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Kannada, Marathi, Odia, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu this year.
Based on the initial report, more than 77 per cent aspirants took the test in English, around 12 per cent in Hindi and 11 per cent in other languages.
Till Saturday 5 pm, more than 15 lakh of the 15.97 lakh registered candidates downloaded their admit cards.
Free transportation and accommodation were announced by various state governments, including West Bengal that ran a special metro service for the candidates.
The exam has been postponed twice due to the pandemic and the government decided to go ahead with it, despite opposition by a section, to mitigate any further academic loss.
The National Testing Agency has set in place strict standard operating procedures in view of the pandemic, including measures like reducing the number of candidates per room from the earlier 24 to 12.
The NTA had also increased the number of centres from 2,546 in 2019 to 3,862 this year to ensure crowd management and staggered entry and exit protocols.
Unlike the engineering entrance (JEE), NEET-UG, the medical admission test, is a pen and paper exam and held once a year.
Accordingly, the NTA has changed centres for a few candidates this week in compliance with social distancing norms and COVID restrictions.
However, the city of the exam centre hasn't been changed for any candidate.
The centres which had more than 900 candidates are distributed into two centres.
In many places NTA also arranged buses and private vehicles to transfer candidates who arrived at the centres assigned to them earlier instead of the changed one.
While all the candidates were asked to go to the exam centres with masks and sanitisers, once they entered the centre, they were asked to use the three-ply masks provided by the examination authority.
The NEET-UG was originally scheduled for May 3, but was pushed to July 26 and then scheduled for September 13.