Philippines tentatively reopens schools as COVID-19 cases ease

December 6, 2021 - 7:35 PM
Students seated on chairs with plastic barriers attend a class as several schools in the Philippines' capital reopen for the first time since the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Pasay City, Metro Manila, Philippines, December 6, 2021. (Reuters/Lisa Marie David)

MANILA — Some children in the Philippines’ capital Manila returned to school on Monday after a near two-year suspension as the country, which has imposed some of the world’s toughest coronavirus curbs, tries to get life back to normal.

Wearing face masks and sitting at desks fitted with plastic screens, the children are part of a trial at 28 schools in the capital region. The government aims to reopen all schools in January.

Against the backdrop of mass vaccination drives and falling virus cases, parents cautiously welcomed the move.

“I also feel scared since there is still COVID, but we have to brave it so my child can learn,” said Lara Vedasto as she waited for her daughter outside the campus. “I can’t focus on helping her with her studies and her modules because I also have work.”

The reopening of the schools in the capital region is an expansion of a trial of 100 schools in lower-risk areas which started last month. Precautions remain for pupils, however, such as class sizes capped at 15 to avoid overcrowding.

The Philippines, which has has recorded 2.84 million COVID-19 cases and 49,499 deaths in total, is among the last countries globally to reopen schools.

Daily infections have fallen sharply to below 1,000 since Nov. 24, from a peak of over 20,000 in September, paving the way for a wider economic reopening.

The Philippines last week held a three-day mass vaccination drive to boost its vaccine roll out, which has been slower than many neighbors. As of Dec. 2, around 34% of its 110 million people had been fully immunized. —Additional reporting by Adrian Portugal; Editing by John Geddie and Angus MacSwan