MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday reiterated that he will not allow the resumption of face-to-face classes until the country has reached herd immunity against COVID-19.
Duterte said he will only allow the resumption of face-to-face classes once everyone gets vaccinated.
"In the last meeting, Carlos Dominguez III, the Secretary of Finance, said clearly that we have the money already reserved for the vaccines and it's there, and we can buy as many vaccines as required, maski na sumobra, mas mabuti ngang sumobra kaysa magkulang (even if we have surplus, I think it's better to buy more than to not have enough)," he said.
"Dito sa face-to-face, I think I am not inclined to agree with you. I'm sorry but, mahirap (it's difficult), I cannot gamble on the health of the children," Duterte told Education Secretary Leonor Briones.
Briones said she agrees with the President and added that her agency will just continue to prepare and wait until it is safe to reopen schools.
"This time again, always, we try to keep ourselves prepared, just in case, if things get better, if the numbers are flattened, and if there is more hope, then if you say open the schools, we will open the schools," she said.
"We cannot match the professional knowledge of the health people, especially the idea of having our children vaccinated because we are told that children are now more prone and perhaps are vulnerable and we would not want to risk 27 million children and our teachers," Briones added.
Duterte has twice rejected a pilot test for face-to-face classes, the latest in February, because the COVID-19 vaccination drive had yet to be launched then.
Briones in February said a survey by her agency showed "more than 50 percent" of students were in favor of attending in-person classes.
A "significant portion" of teachers also want to hold limited in-person classes while parents remain undecided on the matter, she said.
The education chief said prolonged school closures have an impact on the psychosocial welfare of students.
The Philippines is the only country in Southeast Asia that has yet to hold in-person classes, even on a limited scale to supplement distance-learning modalities, she added.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) earlier authorized the use of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine for minors as young as 12 years old.
The Philippines has administered more than 8.4 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines since the government began its immunization drive last March, officials said Monday.
Of the 8,407,342 doses administered as of June 20, the Department of Health and National Task Force Against COVID-19 said 6,253,400 were given as first doses while 2,153,942 were second doses. Recipients of the latter are considered fully vaccinated.
The latest total inoculation figure was higher by more than 356,000 from Friday's 8,050,711 reported on Sunday.
The country aims to fully vaccinate at least 58 million individuals this year to achieve herd immunity against the coronavirus.