Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has said that he will not allow students to go back to school until a coronavirus vaccine is available, even as some countries resume in-person classes.
In a speech aired late on Monday, Duterte said the risk was too great, even if it held students back academically.
“Unless I am sure they are really safe it’s useless to be talking about opening of classes. For me, vaccine first. If the vaccine is already there, then it’s okay. If no one graduates, then so be it,” he said.
Children were due to return to school at the end of August after classes for more than 25 million primary and secondary students were shut down in March as the contagion took off in the Philippines.
Though researchers worldwide have launched an unprecedented effort to quickly develop a vaccine, it is not clear when a viable candidate will be proven and distributed on a large scale.
Public school normally runs from June to April in the Philippines, but the authorities delayed the start as cases rose and a strict lockdown brought most of the nation to a halt.
The Department of Education has stressed that “school opening will not necessarily mean traditional face-to-face learning in [the] classroom”.
“The physical opening of schools will depend on the risk severity grading or classification of a locality,” it said when it announced the new academic calendar.
In order to ease classroom crowding, the Education Ministry had already announced a mix of distance-learning measures, including online classes, would be used for the coming school year. Millions live in deep poverty in the Philippines and do not have access to computers at home, which would be key for the viability of online classes.
There have been 14,319 confirmed coronavirus cases in the Philippines as of Monday, including 873 deaths, according to the Department of Health.
Metro Manila and high-risk areas for infections are under relaxed lockdown until May 31, which has allowed some industries and business establishments to resume limited operations.