So, who are we following now?
Health Secretary Francisco Duque said in a Senate hearing today that it’s safe to reopen schools in August, less than 24 hours after his boss, President Rodrigo Duterte, said he would not allow the resumption of classes until a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available.
Speaking to Senator Christopher “Bong” Go who asked for his opinion regarding the issue, Duque said it was safe to start classes this year, as long as specific preventive measures are implemented.
“For now, we think, it’s safe if we open classes by Aug. 24. What we need to do is to make sure that all of our minimum standards for health are being followed. This includes physical distancing, frequent washing of the hands, disinfection of classrooms, [and] making alcohol, [hand] sanitizers available,” Duque told the senators in English and Filipino in the virtual hearing.
“We have other [health] measures such as thermal scanning which we can adopt in schools, [that’s when] a child is checked if he is ill. The school also has to tell the parents that if their child is ill, they shouldn’t be sent to school,” he added.
Duque said he believes that the Department of Education (DepEd) can implement these health measures.
“They can also use online learning as an alternative strategy…We will continue to evaluate the number of cases down to the village levels so that we will know which village has [COVID-19] cases. Schools there will be included in a community quarantine,” Duque added.
The controversial health secretary’s pronouncement is in direct contradiction to Duterte’s statement, who said in a televised speech that it’s unsafe to allow the reopening of classes while a pandemic is ongoing.
This is not the first time that two officials in the Philippine government are issuing opposing points of view— last week, Duque said that the Philippines is now on its second wave of COVID-19 infections, but Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque rejected his assertion and said the country is still on its first wave. Shortly after, Duque took back his initial statement.
It remains to be seen who will prevail on this issue, but the law has mandated the DepEd to start classes no later than August. The department said that they’d combine face-to-face education with online courses. Still, critics have pointed out that many students from impoverished households cannot afford to purchase gadgets such as laptops and pay for internet services.
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