December 09, 2021
Eimor Santos, CNN Philippines
Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 8) — Senate basic education committee chairman Sherwin Gatchalian believes all schools can reopen for face-to-face classes at 50% capacity by January as COVID-19 cases continue to drop.
At present, some 295 schools are allowed to hold pilot in-person classes. In Metro Manila, the region with the highest recorded coronavirus infections, around 2,000 learners from 28 schools joined the dry run of limited face-to-face classes on Monday.
Prior to this, all education facilities were shut down for 20 months due to the pandemic. It's the longest school closure in the Asia-Pacific region according to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), with students relying on modules and online classes.
“My analysis is by next year, January, we can already expand the limited face-to-face,” Gatchalian told CNN Philippines in a phone interview late Tuesday.
“Hindi pa rin everyday yung pasok (Classes won’t be held every day) because we have to practice social distancing,” he added.
This means classrooms can accommodate learners at 50% capacity, Gatchalian explained. “Limited face-to-face but we can do na (already) in all schools.”
On Wednesday, the Department of Health reported 356 new infections, the lowest daily case count in 17 months. Gatchalian said if the country’s COVID-19 situation improves “tremendously” by February or March, “then we can go back to full face-to-face.”
The lawmaker noted, however, that schools can reopen only if the dreaded Omicron variant is kept at bay.
“Ang caveat ko (My caveat) is assuming Omicron is benign or not as serious as what we thought then we can go ahead with limited face-to-face. If Omicron is as transmissible as Delta then we have to hold off limited face-to-face muna (for the time being),” he said.
“But regardless of that, we have to plan pa rin (we still have to plan),” he added.
The Philippines remains on high alert after more than 40 countries and territories detected cases of the Omicron variant. The World Health Organization said it is still unclear whether Omicron is more easily spread or if it causes more severe disease than other variants of concern, but preliminary evidence suggests there may be an increased risk of reinfection.